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Nova Scotia has just three known active cases of COVID-19, all of which are related to travel — two had travelled internationally, and the third had travelled in Canada but outside the Atlantic Bubble. In all three cases, the infected person self-isolated as required, and there was no further spread of the disease. One of the three, however, remains in ICU.
Despite those low numbers, as the flu season approaches, Nova Scotia is aiming to more than double its capacity to test for COVID-19. The aim is to increase the daily number of tests to 2,500 by the middle of November.
To that end, the government has announced several changes, including:
• Doubling the the testing capacity for children, in part by using a “gargle test” for children aged 4-18. The gargle test, which was pioneered in British Columbia, uses the same polymerase chain reaction (PCR) method as the nose swab, but the sample is collected differently. Dr. Robert Strang, the province’s chief medical officer of health, said today at a COVID briefing that most children will find the gargle test easier, but the nose swab will also be available. The gargle test will be “piloted” starting tomorrow at the IWK Health Centre, and once the process is in place, it will be expanded to all primary assessment centres by the third week of October.
• Establishment of a testing lab in Sydney. Currently, samples collected in Sydney are sent to Halifax for testing, which can add as much as two days for results. The Sydney operation will be able to process up to 400 tests a day, said Strang.
• Allowing online booking for testing appointments. Currently, people can take an online COVID-19 self-assessment to determine if they should be tested for COVID-19, but then must wait for a call from Public Health to book an appointment. That process can take up to 48 hours. But by establishing an online appointment booking process, that wait can be eliminated completely.
Neither Strang nor Premier Stephen McNeil could put a price tag on the expanded testing, but both said the costs would be covered from existing budgets and from money already allocated by the federal government.
Strang reiterated his ongoing exhortations for people to continue to follow health guidelines, including wearing masks, physical distancing, keeping social groups to fewer than 10 people, washing hands, and so forth. He said that the surging number of cases in the rest of Canada demonstrates that once numbers start to increase, it’s difficult to lower them again.
Strang also firmly supported keeping the Atlantic Bubble in place. McNeil, who had months ago talked about opening Nova Scotia up to the rest of Canada, even if it mean “going it alone” without the other Atlantic provinces, has completely reversed course, noting that increasing case numbers in other provinces mean the Atlantic Bubble won’t be eliminated “in the short term.”
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