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COVID-19 rapid tests now available without appointment at some N.B. sites

Rapid test kits are available at a total of 80 sites across New Brunswick, such as libraries, municipalities and regional health authorities' facilities, some of which have dropped their requirement for an appointment.  (Alexandre Silberman/CBC News - image credit)
Rapid test kits are available at a total of 80 sites across New Brunswick, such as libraries, municipalities and regional health authorities' facilities, some of which have dropped their requirement for an appointment. (Alexandre Silberman/CBC News - image credit)

It's a bit easier to access COVID-19 rapid tests in New Brunswick.

The free rapid test kits are now available for pickup without an appointment at some locations, the Department of Health has confirmed.

Until now, people had to book an appointment online by entering their Medicare number, postal code, date of birth, email address and phone number to access the tests, or by contacting Tele-Services at 1-833-437-1424.

"While most pickup sites require an appointment, several sites have recently requested they be able to offer tests without an appointment time, depending on their staffing levels and hours of operation," department spokesperson Sean Hatchard said in an emailed statement.

CBC News requested a list of those sites. Instead, Hatchard said they are "still listed in the online scheduler, which has the most up-to-date information on participating pickup locations."

Saint John library among sites

The Saint John Free Public Library's central, east and west branches are among the sites no longer requiring appointments, CBC has confirmed.

Library officials did not immediately respond to a request for an interview about why they asked to be able to offer the test kits without an appointment, or about what kind of response they've received.

There are a total of 80 rapid test kit pickup sites across the province's seven health zones, according to Hatchard. That's up from 74 last month.

Distribution sites include libraries, municipalities and regional health authorities' facilities.

A positive COVID-19 rapid test result taken Aug. 31.
A positive COVID-19 rapid test result taken Aug. 31.

A positive COVID-19 rapid test result, as indicated by lines on both control (C) and test (T). A line on C, with no line on T, indicates negative, while no lines or only a test line mean the results are invalid and the test needs to be taken again. (CBC/Radio-Canada)

Hatchard did not respond to questions about what prompted the province to decide to offer the tests without appointments at some locations now, long after it has faced criticism for not following the lead of other provinces, such as Nova Scotia.

It comes more than a year after the province expanded access by dropping the requirement people have COVID-19 symptoms to qualify for a rapid test kit.

Follows call to eliminate 'hurdles'

Last month, the president and CEO of NB Lung had called on the province to eliminate "hurdles" to accessing the tests.

Melanie Langille said NB Lung, which began offering free rapid test kits for pick up at its Fredericton office in September without any need for an appointment, was seeing a "huge demand" and hearing complaints from people who were "having some challenges" with the government's appointment system.

"They're happy to just be able to walk into our office [between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.] without jumping through any hoops," she said.

Langille said it's important for people to test so they know whether their symptoms are due to COVID-19, as opposed to another respiratory illness, "because that has implications on … your eligibility for future booster doses and/or your ability to maybe get some antiviral treatments [such as Paxlovid] at the pharmacy."

Hatchard reiterated that "not everyone needs to be tested."

Public Health recommends rapid tests for "people who work in vulnerable settings and for people who are at a higher risk of severe illness and who may benefit from treatment," said Hatchard.

"For the general public, anyone feeling unwell should stay at home while sick and until symptoms improve."

Tests still effective

Hatchard did not say how big a demand the province has seen for the tests in recent months.

The province has stopped reporting rapid tests results, but the tests are still effective at detecting the latest variants, Hatchard has said.

"A positive rapid point-of-care testing (POCT) result is a positive case of COVID-19."

"If you have a negative rapid POCT test result and your symptoms worsen, or new symptoms develop, you should test again in 24 hours. If it is still negative, retest in 48 hours."

New Brunswick has "an adequate inventory" of rapid tests, according to Hatchard, who did not provide any numbers.

Asked about the expiry dates, he said the tests currently being provided to New Brunswickers expire "throughout 2024."

"Expiry dates vary by manufactured date. As part of good inventory management, the first to expire will be the first out."