Cancellation of pop-up test distribution sites sparks worry in N.B. communities

·3 min read
Horizon Health Network announced Monday that its weekly pop-up rapid-test distribution sites for four smaller New Brunswick communities would be cancelled on Tuesday. (Alexandre Silberman/CBC - image credit)
Horizon Health Network announced Monday that its weekly pop-up rapid-test distribution sites for four smaller New Brunswick communities would be cancelled on Tuesday. (Alexandre Silberman/CBC - image credit)

Representatives of rural New Brunswick communities are worried their residents might not get access to COVID-19 rapid tests at a time when they'll need them the most.

Horizon Health Network announced its pop-up rapid test centres scheduled in Baie-Sainte-Anne, Sackville, Minto and Saint Stephen for Tuesday were being cancelled.

The pop-up centres are typically done in those communities every Tuesday, but this week was the second in a row they weren't done after being cancelled on Dec. 28 for the holiday break.

The cancellations also came on the eve of new testing protocols, which as of Wednesday will see lab PCR tests limited to select persons, including symptomatic persons above 50, and those who work with vulnerable populations.

The cancellation of the pop-up sites is just another example of the inequality in health-care services available to persons living in urban versus rural areas, said Memramcook-Tantramar MLA Megan Mitton, who serves as the Green Party's health critic.

"Whenever there's a lack of equitable resources in the province, and we're talking about equal access to healthcare, we often see that rural places and rural people, don't have the same access," said Mitton, whose riding covers Sackville.

"And this is unfortunately another example of it."

Rapid test kits are currently being distributed by the regional health authorities in select communities.

Horizon has three primary locations that operate five days a week in Fredericton, Moncton and Saint John, but also has mobile distribution centres which pop up in different communities on different days of the week.

Mitton said although travelling to Moncton to access the pickup-site there is an option, not everyone has transportation or available time off work to make the trip.

CBC News file photo
CBC News file photo

"What that means is that people here have less access to one of the most important tools right now for staying safe and keeping people around them safe.

"And so not being able to get a test, especially now that, you know, a lot of people aren't going to be having access to PCR tests, even if they're symptomatic, it's going to be a problem."

While the Department of Health in early December said it had enough rapid test kits to meet demand, that quickly changed with the arrival of the Omicron COVID-19 variant and a subsequent spike in the number of new cases being reported daily.

In recent weeks distribution sites have seen long lineups, leading to their stocks of rapid tests running out.

Health Minister Dorothy Shephard on Tuesday said there were some delays in deliveries last week, meaning that four locations wouldn't be receiving rapid tests.

The province is "looking at different mechanisms" to expand and improve the distribution system and will make some announcements within the next week, she said, acknowledging the "inconvenience and the difficulty" with the current system.

'It is very concerning'

Saint Stephen Mayor Allan MacEachern said it's bad timing for his community to be going without rapid tests, given the new rules taking effect on Wednesday.

"People need to go to work and let's say [workers] do have symptoms," MacEachern said. "They've got no way to get tested. They may still go to work and, you know, spread the disease faster than we can handle.

"So it is very concerning, especially right now, you know. It's the worst time, I think, not to have those kits."

Later Tuesday, people picking up rapid-test kits in Fredericton were being told that as of Wednesday, they would need to book an appointment and arrive at the site with a voucher to claim the kits. The province did not respond to requests for more information.

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