Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil removes his mask as he arrives at a post-cabinet media availability on Thursday, Oct. 1, 2020.— Photo: Zane Woodford

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Nova Scotia is hoping to speed up the COVID-19 testing process by removing one layer of screening for people hoping to find out whether they have the disease.

The province announced a new online portal — nshealth.ca/coronavirus-assessment — on Thursday to screen people’s symptoms.

“As of today, instead of calling 811 as a first step, people can now do a COVID-19 self-assessment online,” the government said in a news release.

“This will reduce the wait time to be screened for testing from 12 hours to about 10 minutes. If the online assessment determines that a person requires a test, the Nova Scotia Health Authority or the IWK Health Centre will call them within 24 to 48 hours to book an appointment.”

Long wait times between first calling 811 and getting a test have meant parents having to stay home with sick kids who aren’t allowed back to school or daycare until they have a negative test.

A Dartmouth mother told the Halifax Examiner last month that she had to take five days off work because of the wait time for her toddler’s COVID-19 testing, calling the situation “completely unacceptable.”

Asked after a cabinet meeting on Thursday whether situations like that were the impetus for the change, Premier Stephen McNeil told reporters the new portal “just eliminates that one extra step.”

“There was too many people between you and getting your appointment, and this online portal will speed that up,” McNeil said.

In the news release chief public health officer Dr. Robert Strang said it’s “reasonable to expect a resurgence of COVID-19 in Nova Scotia” given the high levels of new cases in other provinces, “and the improvements we’re making in our testing process will help us be prepared for it.”

NDP leader Gary Burrill said the new tool is good, but it’s not what his party has been calling for.

“Everything that takes out a step or part of a step is a step in the right direction, but this is not the expedited system of testing that we have called for.”

Burrill wants a parallel system for testing school children to ensure parents don’t have to miss work to care for them.

Progressive Conservative Deputy House Leader Brad Johns said his party is still hearing from parents and teachers about wait times for testing, and has been pushing the government to adopt the federal COVID-19 tracing app.

McNeil said Thursday that the province was in the final stages of signing onto that app.

“There’s a few details we have to sign off with the federal government, and then we’ll announce it,” he said.

The Halifax Examiner reported last month that the health authority was still working on a code for the app:

Another tool developed by Health Canada is a free COVID exposure app for cellphones that will alert the wearer if a “close contact” has tested positive for COVID. The Alert reminds you to watch for symptoms and get a test. You can download it easily here.

Smart phones purchased in the past five years are equipped to track our proximity to one another (Bluetooth enabled) and communicate by constantly sending codes among phones. People in Ontario and Newfoundland and Labrador are already using the app and will receive an alert on their phone if a close contact tests positive for the virus. With schools and universities on the cusp of opening here, Health Minister Delorey was asked when the Health Canada App will be activated for citizens in Nova Scotia.

“Anyone can go out and download the app today,” he replied. “The piece of work that is outstanding is the process within our Public Health division for how a code has to be provided by Public Health to an individual who has tested positive. The individual then loads that code into their phone. That work is well underway by Public Health and we expect to make an announcement in the not too distant future.”

The premier said the app would just be one small part of the government’s response to COVID-19.

“It’s just one more option that we can use to continue to track the virus in our own province,” he said.

He didn’t believe the use of the app would overwhelm the province’s testing capabilities, given the experience in other provinces.


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Zane Woodford

Zane Woodford is the Halifax Examiner’s municipal reporter. He covers Halifax City Hall and contributes to our ongoing PRICED OUT housing series. Twitter @zwoodford

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  1. Why not enhance the online assessment further and let those who need to be tested book the appointment online? Surely we have the technology to do this and it would eliminate waiting for that callback. I agree that there needs to be something to quickly and accurately test not only school children and staff but also staff and residents at long-term care facilities.

    As for the Covid Alert app, I am one of many who doesn’t own a compatible phone and, therefore, won’t be using the app if/when Nova Scotia (finally) introduces it. I’ll just check online to see how cases in Nova Scotia are trending and go about my life as I have been.