Nova Scotia is expanding its COVID-19 testing for essential work or travel and reducing the cost to get a test.
The province has made a deal with PRAXES Medical Group, a Halifax-based company that provides emergency telehealth services, to test those who require proof that they do not have the virus.
The test costs $250 plus HST, according to a news release Thursday from the Nova Scotia Health Authority.
On Wednesday, CBC News reported how the families of two women seeking to return home to China were frustrated by the high cost being charged by the province for COVID-19 tests for non-Canadians. Those people, who are not Nova Scotians, were being charged $1,017.50 per test.
Dr. Brendan Carr, CEO of the Nova Scotia Health Authority, said Wednesday that the fee was under review and would likely be reduced.
People must meet testing criteria
The PRAXES testing is only available for people who have urgent, work-related travel that requires a negative COVID test; students or migrant workers who require the negative test result in order to return to their home countries; or for compassionate grounds, such as travel to visit a vulnerable, ill or elderly relative or attend a funeral.
People who are travelling for non-essential personal or business reasons will not be eligible for testing through the new service.
"Some of our sons and daughters are teaching at schools in China, teaching in other places, moving and going back for other work to places outside of the country and they need to have that test," Premier Stephen McNeil told reporters on Thursday. "So it was important that we made that available."
Leo Glavine, who was named health minister earlier this week, could not provide further details about who exactly would be able to be tested, such as those with relatives looking to return to their home countries. He said he's just starting to be briefed on it.
Glavine said the province now has the capacity to do 1,500 to 2,000 tests a day.
Susan Helliwell, CEO of PRAXES, said the province has given the company a limit of 50 tests per day, seven days a week. PRAXES does the nasopharyngeal swab and sends the samples to the provincial lab.
Since early June, Helliwell said PRAXES has been offering COVID tests to companies with essential workers, such as people on ships and those who need to travel to other work sites. The new agreement with the health authority formalizes and expands the relationship, she said.
"In our busiest month we tested 150 people, so again the volumes have not been high," Helliwell said.
"But it has been an incredibly valuable service for people that do need to travel in order to do their jobs, to keep their businesses going and to keep our economy functioning."
The per-person cost when testing large groups works out to be less than the $250. Helliwell said they charge on an hourly rate basis, plus the cost of personal protection equipment and swab processing.
Since the summer, PRAXES has also been testing people working in the film industry, and Helliwell said some insurance companies are now requiring frequent testing on set.
Results available within 36 to 60 hours
Helliwell said people will also be asked a series of questions to ensure they have been practising the right social behaviours in order to be tested, such as if they've been avoiding large groups and frequently washing their hands.
Those who are eligible are asked to visit the website at least five days before their travel date. They will receive a link to book an appointment online within one business day.
Right now, the testing is only available at the PRAXES location in Dartmouth. It will be available in other parts of Nova Scotia at a later date.
Test results will be available within 36 to 60 hours, depending on how many are being processed.
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