North Bay’s COVID-19 assessment centre is prepared for the potential second wave.
Dr. Ian Cowan, the Medical Director of the assessment centre at the North Bay Regional Health Centre says that the clinic plans to ramp up testing in the coming weeks.
“We’re planning to take our numbers up to 400 a day. Considering we’re only 50,000 people, that’s a fair number of people a day,” Dr. Cowan said.
The assessment centre at the hospital is the only testing centre available within the city of North Bay. Those who require testing must call the centre to set up an appointment, which gives medical screening to assess the priority of the test, and then the swabbing is done inside the hospital or by drive-through.
Dr. Cowan says that since school began earlier in the month, there has been an increase in the number of people who are in need of testing.
“We’ve seen a massive influx. I’d say before school started we were running around 150 to 180 tests a day. Ever since school went back, we’ve been pushing 250 tests a day,” he explained.
Dr. Cowan adds that the majority of the new tests are being done on children eight years old or younger, which poses a new challenge.
“Kids are much harder to test. It’s difficult to do the swabbing on them. They’re fighting you and don’t want to have the swab… so it takes so much longer. That’s why we’ve had to add the extra staff because not only are our numbers up but the patients are also more complex,” he said.
The assessment centre has between 12-15 clinical staff on-site to deal with patients, plus clerks who answer the phones and make the appointments. Dr. Cowan says that they are looking to add more staff to answer phones, increasing from five people to nine.
The provincial government has recently stated that asymptomatic people should not be getting tested unless they have reason to believe that they’ve come into contact with the virus. Dr. Cowan says that the stipulation has not impacted the testing numbers.
“Most of the people we’re seeing now are all symptomatic. So you have a kid or an adult with a runny nose or a cough – that all classified as symptomatic,” he noted.
Changes could be coming to the way that North Bay’s tests are processed. The current system sees the swabs done in North Bay to be shipped to Sudbury on a daily basis to be analyzed at a lab at Health Sciences North. When the swabs arrive in Sudbury, the testing gets prioritized for those who work in health care, have a high likelihood of testing positive or need a result for a procedure like chemotherapy or surgery. Dr. Cowan says that most tests will take 3-5 business days to receive results.
However, the hospital has recently purchased machines that will allow for in-house testing in North Bay, which Dr. Cowan says it will “dramatically improve” the assessment centre.
“We went out on a limb and bought these. If they are approved by Health Canada, it will greatly enhance our testing ability here in North Bay. We’re hoping that we’ll be able to do all our testing here on-site,” he said. “These are great machines and they have about a 20-minute turnaround time for testing.”
Dr. Cowan adds that there is the potential for a second assessment centre to open up in North Bay in the coming weeks, which would allow for an additional 100-plus tests per day.