Thousands of Cape Bretoners getting tested each day in effort to contain COVID-19

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People lined up for testing at Membertou Entertainment Centre earlier this week. (Matthew Moore/CBC - image credit)
People lined up for testing at Membertou Entertainment Centre earlier this week. (Matthew Moore/CBC - image credit)

Nova Scotia's eastern health zone is seeing a big surge in COVID-19 testing, though some community leaders would like to see testing expanded in more rural areas.

Thousands of people in Antigonish and Guysborough counties and Cape Breton Island are being tested every day, said Andrew Heighton, the eastern zone's COVID-19 response director.

"For some perspective, last week around this time we were probably doing about 350 to 400 tests within the eastern zone based on demand so now we're up around 4,000 to 5,000 a day," Heighton told Information Morning Cape Breton.

Heighton said more than 2,500 people are being tested in Membertou alone every day. The Canadian Armed Forces have deployed the Cape Breton Highlanders to help at the Membertou Entertainment Centre, which is offering walk-in testing and appointments.

"They were on site yesterday and they'll continue to be on site to help with things like traffic control, line control, swabbing, wherever they're needed."

Nova Scotia Health has also sent a mobile testing unit to Port Hawkesbury. One will also be set up in New Waterford starting Monday.

But some community leaders say more testing is needed in the rural areas.

"Myself, I've tried to get a testing appointment booked but it has been fully subscribed so it's great, I'm so glad to see Richmond County residents are stepping up and going to get their tests," said Amanda Mombourquette, the county's warden.

"But on the other hand we definitely need more testing capacity here."

Mombourquette says appointments at the Strait Regional Hospital book up quickly and once they're gone, community members have the option to drive to Sydney or Antigonish for a test.

A mobile testing unit has been sent to St. Peter's in the past. Mombourquette would like to see it return.

"Especially with many people wanting to stay close to home and some people with transportation challenges."

Richmond County council has written to the province asking to expand testing in the area.

In the meantime, Heighton is asking the public not to book symptomatic testing if they do not have symptoms.

"We need those for people who do have symptoms or were at high-risk exposure sites," Heighton said. "We need to fit those people in so public health can do their contact tracing."

"We're just asking the public to have patience, we appreciate everybody coming out, it's unbelievable."

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