Health-care workers expand COVID-19 testing to reduce strain on hospitals
TORONTO -- Provincial health-care workers are expanding COVID-19 testing, administering nasal swabs in homes and opening special screening clinics -- all in an effort to keep infectious people out of hospitals and doctors’ offices.
Some paramedics in Ontario and Alberta have begun offering in-home testing as a way of reducing the risk of spreading the virus in crowded health centres.
In Arnprior, Ont., just west of Ottawa, community paramedics in Renfrew County began offering in-home testing last week. Paramedics have visited homes of patients who’ve been referred to them, where they take a nasal swab and send it off for examination.
“With COVID-19 coming at us, the preparations are well underway to mitigate pressure in urge in call volumes,” Michael Nolan, chief paramedic and director of emergency services for Renfrew County, told CTV News.
“We need better ways of keeping people from dialing 911, going to emergency, while deciding whether we’ll be able to answer this question of whether they have COVID-19.”
Nolan said at-home testing also reduces the likelihood of someone with COVID-19 spreading the virus to doctors and other people in the emergency room.
Paramedic home testing and monitoring is also being offered in Alberta, and may soon expand to other parts of Ontario.
Meanwhile, journalists in Montreal were given a tour Tuesday of the new COVID-19 screening centre at Hôtel-Dieu Hospital. Anyone who thinks they may have been infected by the coronavirus must first call 811 to book an appointment.
The Hôtel-Dieu Hospital clinic is one of three such screening clinics in the province, capable of testing between 50 and 80 patients a day.
It’s another way of containing the virus, reducing the risk of infection to others and keeping hospitals from getting overloaded.
"We're still in a situation in Quebec where the transmission is low, but we must stay extremely vigilant because the situation could change at any time," said Quebec Health Minister Danielle McCann.
As for the test itself -- a nasal swab taken from the back of a patient’s nose – it’s painless and takes less than 10 seconds.
“The swab is put directly straight into the nose and goes to the back of the pharynx to the nasal pharynx, and the swab is taken from the area where the virus is at highest concentrations,” said Dr. Neil Rau, a Canadian infectious disease specialist.
He said home-testing and specialized screening centres is far more efficient -- and offers less risk for others -- than having patients arrive at emergency rooms.
“They are going to wait for hours to be tested for a condition that really didn't warrant a visit to the emergency room,” he said.
“Emergency rooms have to continue to function and service people with real serious medical problems that might require admission to the hospital.”
But not everyone who asks for a COVID-19 test may receive one. Canada’s public health agency recommends doctors only test those with flu-like symptoms -- a fever, cough or difficulty breathing -- or those who have recently travelled outside Canada.
And tests may be prioritized to those most at risk, including the elderly, people with existing health issues and health-care workers.
Health officials across the country are using similar methods of off-site COVID-19 testing to lower the risk of spreading the virus to patients in hospital, while still providing screening for concerned patients.
WHAT ARE THE SIGNS OF COVID-19?
The most common symptoms of COVID-19, according to Public Health Canada, are “fever, cough, difficulty breathing, and pneumonia in both lungs.”
The World Health Organization lists additional symptoms, including “aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat or diarrhea.”
I THINK I MAY BE INFECTED. WHO SHOULD I CALL?
If you think you may be infected with the coronavirus, you should call your public health authority. A full list of numbers is below. You can also call the federal Government of Canada novel coronavirus information line: 1-833-784-4397.
British Columbia: 811
New Brunswick: 811
Nova Scotia: 811
Prince Edward Island: 811
Newfoundland and Labrador: 811 or 1-888-709-2929
Northwest Territories: 911
With files from CTV Montreal's Rachel Lau