There is some relief for those in the area hoping to get tested for COVID-19 — a trip to the water park.
The Eastern Ontario Health Unit (EOHU) announced Thursday it was opening a temporary assessment centre in the parking lot of the Calypso Waterpark, adjacent to the Highway 417 exit for Limoges. The decision to do so was taken following a sharp rise in requests for COVID-19 tests in nearby Casselman, and also in Winchester.
For a few weeks now, hundreds or individuals, most of them from nearby Ottawa, swamped the Village of Casselman, hoping to be tested for the virus.
With capacity to only do about 200 to 250 drive-through tests, the assessment centre was soon overrun. The traffic caused significant jams in the village, with lineups being miles long, according to EOHU medical officer of health Dr. Paul Roumeliotis.
The new site, which started accepting people on Thursday, will have an increased capacity of 1,000 tests a day and will operate seven days a week, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
“We’re opening the temporary testing centre in Limoges to alleviate the demand at our other testing centres,” he said. “The number of individuals coming to our testing centres over the last few weeks has far surpassed our capacity. This new centre will increase access to COVID-19 testing for our region’s residents and shorten wait times.”
According to Roumeliotis, the centre will service residents of the area as well as the ones from Ottawa. It is staffed by paramedics from Cornwall-SDG and Prescott-Russell, with Cornwall social services staff members also assisting.
In order to alleviate the pressure on the local health unit’s assessment centres, Roumeliotis also announced earlier this week only those with COVID-like symptoms, such as a runny nose, sore throat or a fever, should seek testing.
Since then, the EOHU has also announced anyone having been referred by public health, due to being in close contact with a confirmed case would also be prioritized, as well as anyone having been referred by a health-care professional or that needs to meet ministry guidelines. Residents or workers in settings that have a COVID-19 outbreak will also be prioritized.
Although Roumeliotis told media on Thursday that his health unit is also prioritizing local students sent home due to COVID-like symptoms, he admitted that some “get lost in the backlog.”
The government of Ontario announced on Thursday that it too was hoping to alleviate pressures on the province’s assessment centres through prioritized testing. It also announced that 60 pharmacies throughout the province would be allowed to test asymptomatic individuals, by appointment, starting Friday. None of those 60 pharmacies are yet located in the EOHU’s area — Cornwall, SDG or Prescott-Russell.
“We were disappointed to hear that there were not going to be any pharmacies in our area offering tests,” said Roumeliotis. “But I was reassured by a phone call I had with the ministry. It’s only a matter of time before some local pharmacies begin offering it.”
According to Roumeliotis, the province decided to choose pharmacies located in what it called hotspots for the virus — namely Ottawa and Toronto. Of the 60 pharmacies, 15 of them are located in Ottawa.