Drive-thru COVID-19 testing site opens in Dartmouth, N.S.

Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, people in Nova Scotia have been asked to call 811 if they have two or more of the common COVID-19 symptoms, which include, fever, new or worsening cough, sore throat, runny nose and headache.

Once that individual is assessed on the phone and depending on the symptoms described, a nurse might refer them to a COVID-19 assessment centre for an in-person assessment.

But now these individuals have another option: to go through a drive-thru COVID-19 testing site in Dartmouth, where they can get swabbed, have their temperature and blood pressure taken — all while remaining in their car.

“I think patients in their cars at the drive-thru feel less anxious,” said Wendy Szabo, an NSHA nurse who works at the site located behind Dartmouth General Hospital.

She said in the last five weeks she has been working at one of the COVID-19 assessment centres, and compared to the drive-thru testing site, which opened last Tuesday, patients tend to feel more nervous and anxious because of the unusual environment.

Szabo also noted that in comparison with in-door testing sites, it is faster to do swabs at the drive-thru “because the assessment form is very streamlined.”

“There’s much more contact that’s happening in the indoor site because they’re sitting with us and there’s much more interviewing and assessment that is required,” she said.

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Typically at the drive-thru nurses would assess between 20 and 45 people, while in a COVID-19 assessment centre 98 to 135 patients would get tested.

“I think the drive-thru testing site was another avenue for patients. First of all, because there are some individuals who may not go to one of their primary assessment clinics because some feel that going into the clinic itself or exposing themselves to other individuals where they’re being tested may cause them to get sick,” said Lynn Molloy, on-site manager for the drive-thru testing site.

“And so this is an opportunity for them to remain in their own space, there and get tested,” she added.

Moreover, she said the drive-thru requires less PPE gear because nurses aren’t coming into contact with individuals as much.

“There’s a swab and the individuals drive out. Any indication from their assessment that they need some further direction, then we ask them to pull ahead to another tent and they will wait there with the nurse while she contacts the COVID-19 physician on-call to see there’s any other follow-up,” Molloy said.

The assessment happens under a big tent and there are two lanes for cars and two lanes for the nurses to work out of.

“If we’re fully staffed and having a lot of volume, we would have four cars under the tent with four teams swabbing patients,” said Molloy, adding that they didn’t have the resources before to open the drive-thru testing site.

She said that the tents and the whole design of the drive-thru was donated by a local business called Advantage Food Equipment, and that’s what made it possible for the drive-thru to open up in the first place.

Lynn said the volume of people coming through the drive-thru has lessened, but the teams are still working to make sure everyone who comes through the site gets tested.

As of Tuesday, the province announced an additional six cases of COVID-19 in the province, bringing the provincial total to 991. Of the 991 cases, 298 cases are active.

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