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COVID-19: Shift in Nova Scotia’s rapid testing strategy prompts concern

Click to play video: 'COVID-19 rapid testing to shutdown in Nova Scotia'
COVID-19 rapid testing to shutdown in Nova Scotia
WATCH: Nova Scotia COVID-19 rapid testing sites will shutdown as the province enters phase five of its reopening plan. The move has some regular users of the testing sites concerned as the province enters a fourth wave of COVID-19. Jesse Thomas has more. – Sep 14, 2021

COVID-19 rapid testing sites in Nova Scotia are gearing up to shut down once the province enters Phase 5 of its reopening plan.

That start date was initially supposed to be Wednesday.

But on the eve of that date, the province’s health minister announced the reopening will be delayed until Oct. 4 to coincide with the start of the proof of vaccination policy.

The move was prompted by a rising number of cases in Nova Scotia, and two growing clusters in the Northern and Central zones.

There were long lines at both COVID-19 rapid testing sites in Halifax and Dartmouth on Tuesday prior to the announcement, however, in anticipation of it being the last day.

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“This is up considerably,” said Kevin Cox, a volunteer at the clinic at the Halifax Convention Centre.

“We’re in little early times yet, but it’s certainly higher than it was yesterday. Yesterday we had about 300 I think.”

Regardless of when Phase 5 comes in, those who have used rapid testing regularly say they’re concerned about the shift in testing strategy.

“I go visiting folks and help look after people who are a fair bit older. My mom is 85 and it’s an extra layer of security,” said Brian Trainor, who was getting tested at the clinic at Alderney Gate in Dartmouth.

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Others are stocking up on take-home tests, to use down the road.

“I want to get some of the home tests so that I can be prepared and do a rapid test on my own now that the rapid tests aren’t available. But I’m hoping they can start them up again because I think it’s really valuable,” said Sheilagh Henry, who goes for testing twice a month.

Since November 2020, the province has completed 284,685 rapid tests at pop-up testing sites across Nova Scotia, said Department of Health and Wellness spokesperson, Marla MacInnis.

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An additional 172,756 rapid tests have been used in the same time frame in situations such as outbreak and cluster testing, offsetting demand in Nova Scotia Health testing clinics during the third wave.

Click to play video: 'Health-care workers condemn protest outside Halifax hospital'
Health-care workers condemn protest outside Halifax hospital

While the two rapid testing sites will remain open for the next two weeks, regular asymptomatic testing will be winding down.

Dr. Robert Strang, the province’s chief medical officer of health, said the strategy will now target asymptomatic pop-up and mobile testing in areas where there are higher case numbers and signs of community spread.

“Our testing strategy is changing given we have an increasingly vaccinated population,” he said.

“(It) will be more targeted … to people who are unvaccinated and in communities with increased risk.”

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With the arrival of the fourth wave, the NDP wants to see the Progressive Conservative government make rapid testing in schools a priority to protect children under 12 who aren’t eligible to be vaccinated yet.

“We’re always really concerned about our students and our staff that are within the schools because they have the largest number of unvaccinated people and we want to continue to make sure we can keep the students and staff safe as we move along,” said NDP education critic, Suzy Hansen.

Liberal Leader Iain Rankin also echoed the importance of rapid testing.

“Rapid testing was crucial to crush the 3rd wave. This isn’t the time to drop our lead,” he tweeted.

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Primary assessment centers across the province will continue to test people with symptoms and those who meet the requirements for being a close contact of a case.

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