More COVID-19 drive-through swab test sites are setting up across the NWT in an effort to meet the needs of territorial residents.

In addition to the drive-through testing tent in Yellowknife, health authorities have installed similar sites in Behchoko and Fort Smith.

“Behchoko has an in-car screening service where you call the health centre and the nurse meets you in the parking lot for screening,” a GNWT spokesperson told NNSL Media.

Drive-through swab test sites for Covid-19 are expanding across the NWT. Paul Bickford/NNSL photo

It is open Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and there is after hours and on-call weekend support.

Fort Smith has an off-site screening spot and an in-car screening service is in the works. Its services have the same hours as Behchoko, as well as on weekends and statutory holidays from noon to 4 p.m.

“Inuvik has an off-site screening location in the Legion, if demand necessitates they could quickly adapt to a drive-thru model,” the spokesperson said.

As there are lower volumes of people seeking to be tested in those communities, the Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Authority (NWTHSSA) has not deemed it necessary to set up outside tents staffed by medical personnel, like in Yelllowknife.

“All sites noted have expressed that they do not have significant wait times and are meeting demand,” the spokesperson said.

According to the Department of Health and Social Services (HSS), more than 1,160 tests have been administered, most of them in Yellowknife, as of Friday.

Test results turnaround concerns

The time elapsed while test results are being processed is a source of anxiety for people because even if they’re not showing serious symptoms they might be inadvertently at risk of spreading coronavirus.

The HSS said it takes up to one week for test results to be known. Swabs must be sent to a laboratory in Alberta.

A senior medical official with the NWTHSSA told a teleconference on Wednesday that one factor behind the time lag is a backlog at the Alberta lab.

“The average is still four days but there is variability. We know they’re working 24 hours a day at the provincial lab in Alberta. But sometimes it’s more than (four days), sometimes it’s less. It depends on where the swab is coming from and how many samples the lab is processing,” said Dr. Sarah Cook, territorial medical director with NWTHSSA.

But faster test turnaround times could be in sight, as Dr. Tom Wong, Chief Medical Officer of Public Health for Indigenous Services Canada explained to reporters during a teleconference on Thursday.

“There are exciting developments in technology,” Wong said, referring to point-of-care tests that take a blood sample and require as little as 15 minutes to process results. These would be less need to send samples to off-site labs.

“There are point-of-care test kits as we speak that have been approved in the United States and Canada. There’s one test that’s already been approved in both countries and there’s another test that’s just been approved in the US. And there are other test kits being actively evaluated by the regulators in both countries.

“Once those are commercially available in sufficient quantity those would be tremendously helpful if both test kits can be used in a clinic setting, in a doctor’s office setting, in a nurses station setting. Those would drastically reduce the turnaround time.”

The federal government has invested more than $300 million in research to enhance the medical response to Covid-19, according to a government news release on Thursday.

There are four point-of-care projects underway at Canadian universities and receiving a total of $2.9 million in federal investment.

Blair McBride

Blair McBride covers the Legislative Assembly, business and education. Before coming to Yellowknife he worked as a journalist in British Columbia, Thailand and Ontario. He studied journalism at Western...

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