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by Suzanne Gammon
The WN COVID-19 Assessment Centre “is getting busier” according to WN General Hospital CEO Cynthia Desormiers, who adds that between 15 and 20 tests have been conducted at the Sturgeon Falls site from its opening on March 30 to Monday, April 13.
The site is staffed by the hospital as well as the WN Community Health Centre and the municipality, which is also providing the Marcel Noël community hall free of charge. It is open three days per week, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, from noon to 4 pm, though this may increase based on demand.
“Today [Wednesday, April 15] is our busiest so far. We have to regroup and have that discussion to decide if we should open more,” Desormiers says.
Those who suspect they may have contracted the virus have been directed to call the North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit, who will assess the level of risk based on factors such as travel, exposure and symptoms. If a person is deemed as a potential case, they will be sent for testing. However, Desormiers says the Health Unit has been “swamped with calls” so people can now call the local centre directly at 705-580-2186. They will be asked a series of questions, and an appointment can be made for screening. “They have to call and make an appointment. We don’t want people lining up outside the front door or coming all at once. We space out the appointments to ensure proper distancing, and also privacy.”
Once there, people are directed to enter on one side of the hall, with the exit on the other side for easy flow. They are first greeted by a by-law officer who ensures security. Four chairs are spaced out for those waiting. Two clerks then do intake, and an RN does an initial screening with a series of questions. The screening determines if a person should be tested, and if that’s the case, they move on to an RN and physician, who take a swab. There is also an information table where two health promoters provide pamphlets and advice.
Desormiers says that with new cases not related to travel, “criteria for testing has loosened up” and they expect to be doing more swabs. She adds that they have an adequate local supply of testing kits and more can be ordered from the provincial stock, with a 48-hour turnaround.
All the swabs taken are now sent to a lab in Timmins, which provides results in 2 to 3 days, an improvement over the 6-7 days it used to take at a Toronto lab in the early stages.
Desormiers says the assessment centre is “a good partnerhip”, with many agencies coming together to do what is needed.
The results from West Nipissing are sent to the North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit, which follows up with everyone who tests positive. As of Wednesday, April 15, the Health Unit had reported for its entire district 14 positive cases, of which 6 were recovered, four were hospitalized and four were in self-isolation. While the majority were linked to travel, there were five cases attributed to “community spread,” showing the virus is now being spread within the area, highlighting the need for continued social distancing.
While there have been repeated calls for the Health Unit to reveal the specific location of positive cases, they have only distinguished between the Parry Sound area and the Nipissing area, showing 11 cases in Nipissing and three in Parry Sound. West Nipissing is included in the wider Nipissing area, which also includes North Bay, and neither the Health Unit nor the local hospital will confirm if any of the cases are located specifically in this municipality. Both have cited the need to protect patients’ privacy as justification for this decision.
Desormiers points out that many people travel regularly within the district, so no matter where the cases are, every case in the district puts us at risk. She adds that there could very well be undiagnosed cases in West Nipissing, and “we should all behave as though there were cases in our area, and respect the social distancing measures.”
West Nipissing Mayor Joanne Savage echoes this message, admitting she has people continually asking her if there are positive cases within the municipality. She refers to a video released by the Health Unit, featuring Medical Officer of Health Dr. Jim Chirico. “Dr. Chirico explained why they are not divulging [that information]… We basically have to deal with the issue as if we have positive cases in our community and keep adhering to the guidelines… shared by the health professionals since day one. We need to adhere to social distancing, stay home… if we want to flatten the curve of the spread of this virus.”
Desormiers adds that “it’s important that people stay calm and get their information from reputable sources. (…) We need to be concerned, yes, but not panicking.”
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