A pop-up drive-thru COVID-19 testing centre on Saturday morning helped bring some relief to Ottawa’s jammed testing system
Between 1 p.m. and 6 p.m., more than 700 people used the service in the parking lot of the Canadian Tire Centre in Kanata.
It is scheduled to again on Sunday at 9 a.m.
The effort enlisted 30 paramedics from nine paramedic services from the eastern portion of Ontario between Durham and the Quebec border, Renfrew Paramedic Chief Mike Nolan said.
The drive-thru will be able to take 1,200 tests on a full day, he said.
“This is a chance to help Ottawa get through this.”
The drive-thru is open this weekend only, closing at 6 p.m. Sunday, although new arrivals will be turned away starting at 5:30 p.m.
The effort was in response to a request from Renato Discenza, regional lead of Local Health Integration Networks in Ontario East.
Discenza said he put out a call to paramedic chiefs Friday afternoon “to see what we could do to help Ottawa this weekend after the unrelenting demand increase hitting all assessment centres.”
Despite their own local pressures, Discenza had them signing up by Friday night.
“We felt drive-thru could help process volumes fast and safely,” he said. “We recognize also a need to address urban core and walk-in, which we are working on.”
Brian Smith, director of emergency and therapeutics at the Queensway Carleton Hospital, one of the partners in the pop-up, said it was hoped that the drive-thru would relieve some of the pressure on assessment centres. The hospital held its own one day drive-thru in March.
“The toughest part is the human resources and registration of the patients,” Smith said. “It makes sense to have a pop-up on the weekend.”
Shortly after noon on Saturday, a line of cars was waiting even though the pop-up had not been officially announced. Those waiting to be tested had learned of the drive-thru by word-of-mouth.
The Ottawa Senators hockey team said it was happy to provide the space.
“Anything that we can do to help stem the tide against COVID-19 in our community is something that we’re eager to do,” Chris Phillips, a former Senators defenceman and now Ottawa Senators Community Foundation executive director, said in a media release.
“Providing these lots at Canadian Tire Centre will help ease what’s quickly becoming a considerable backlog at other testing centres in Ottawa. It’s an effort that Eugene (Melnyk, team owner) and the entire Senators organization wholeheartedly endorses and one we’ll be proud to continue offering for as long as is needed.”
The drive-thru is only for those with COVID-19 symptoms. It will have four lanes open on Sunday, and those seeking tests are asked to remain in their cars.
At the first stop, each person will be asked to produce a health card and another form of identification displaying their address — preferably a driver’s licence — so the tests can be logged electronically and the results forwarded for followup.
At the next stop, a paramedic will take a nasal swab.
Ottawa’s testing centres at the Brewer Arena, Moodie Drive and Heron Road have been swamped in recent days. On Friday, Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson said he expected that additional test sites at municipal facilities would be announced in the coming days.
In Renfrew County, drive-thru testing sites, which operate at various locations seven days a week, can test between 100 and 150 people an hour in each line, Nolan said.
“All of these paramedic services have a form of mobile testing. We’ve been doing this for months,” he said.
In a meeting with Premier Doug Ford on Friday, Watson said there had to be a “pivot” in messaging to keep asymptomatic people away from the long lineups.
“Everyone is stretched to the limit and, while we added four hours this week to Brewer, we still need facilities more geographically spread out,” Watson said after meeting with the premier.
Discenza said he hoped the paramedics could play a larger role in reducing the pressure on testing. The community paramedicine program started as a trial, but is not funded the same everywhere, he said.
“My goal is to get every one of my 15 services in East Ontario funded as a foundation so we have something everywhere. By standardizing approach and practice, we can have a nimble force to doing community paramedicine in their local municipalities while being able to surge respond,” Discenza said.
“Today was great, but imagine what we can do if this was better entrenched.”