#childsafety | Schools’ reopening causes spike in COVID-19 testing

Students’ return to school is causing a dramatic spike in the local demand for testing – but so far not COVID-19 cases – and requiring more staffing for assessment centres.

The Quinte Health Care director overseeing the corporation’s four COVID-19 assessment centres said they saw a daily total of about 200 patients in June through August.

“In the first week that school was back in session, our numbers doubled to 350 to 400 per day,” said James Russell, QHC’s director of process improvement.

“In the last two days we saw 600 to 700 people per day,” he said Wednesday.

The number of young people tested has also increased rapidly.

Between the facilities’ opening in April and the end of August, Russell said, there were 600 patients younger than age 17 swabbed there.

“In the first 15 days of September we’ve seen over 1,000,” he said, “500 in the last two days alone.

“Now 35 to 45 per cent of our visits daily are pediatric patients, up from one to five per cent in the summer,” he told The Intelligencer.

“Obviously we can attribute it to the kids going back to school.”

No new cases had been announced. The last was confirmed Sept. 5 and on Sept. 16 there were only two active cases in the Hastings-Prince Edward Counties region.

He said he did not have statistics showing how many of those tested had symptoms of COVID-19 or a similar illness.

“We test everybody who comes and wants a test, and that is what’s being done across the province,” said Susan Rowe, QHC’s vice-president of people and strategy.

“If you have any COVID symptoms, please get tested and please self-isolate until you get your test results back.”

Unlike adults, who are tested in their vehicles, young children are tested while sitting on the lap of their parent or guardian.

Russell acknowledged the uncomfortable test “is not a fun thing” – the swab is inserted through a nostril to the back of the throat. It takes only a few seconds.

But Rowe, speaking both as a parent and someone who’s been tested, added, “It does not take long and it is absolutely worth it.”

Slight delays

In recent months, Russell said, results were available an average of 1.4 days after swabbing. That’s increased recently to about two days. Samples taken at the centres are sent to Kingston for testing.

Samples from patients Quinte Health Care hospitals are tested at Belleville General Hospital, with results often available within the same day.

Russell said high demand causes longer waits at assessment centres.

He urged everyone seeking a test to book an appointment – and to have each patient’s health card ready before calling. Those who book appointments can generally receive a test that day, he said, but those who call in late afternoon may be asked to come on the next day.

Once at a centre, patients’ waits vary.

“If the parking lot is full, folks could potentially wait between 20 and 30 minutes,” said Russell.

“We do move the cars through at about one every two to three minutes.”

People who do not book appointments may wait for twice as long, he noted.

One extra lane for motorists has been added at the centres in both Belleville in Trenton.

Demand is changing daily, he continued, but in Belleville and Trenton, traffic on weekends has been as much as 50 per cent lighter than on weekdays. As of Wednesday the centres in Picton and Bancroft were closed on weekends.

More staffing needed

Russell and Chief Doug Socha of Hastings-Quinte Paramedic Services said staffing of the centres is increasing. Paramedics are doing the majority of testing and more have been hired. Hastings Prince Edward Public Health has deployed more nurses to schools and also to assessment centres, while QHC has added more operators to the assessment call centre.

“It’s been a strain on the staff but they’ve really stepped up and done an incredible job,” Russell said, adding further staffing increases are being discussed.

“Staffing is something we’re concerned about,” Socha said. The chief added his crews continue to respond to emergencies and perform their regular duties.

In June and July, paramedics set up mobile testing centres in five Hastings County hamlets. There may be more, said Socha, but the emphasis is on staffing the main sites.

“The volumes right now dictate that’s where we need to be.”

He, Rowe and Russell thanked all front-line workers who have, in Rowe’s words, been “doing the work every day to keep the rest of us safe.” They said inter-agency cooperation has been excellent.

Socha said there are “robust plans” to cope with rising volume; Russell, too, expressed confidence in the system.

“We’ll handle whatever comes our way.”

For now, QHC officials are considering whether to direct samples from assessment centres to Belleville General’s medical microbiology laboratory, which tests hospital patients’ samples.

Russell said no decision has been made, nor is there a date for an expected change in the centres’ format. Chief of staff Dr. Colin MacPherson has said doctors may be seeing and beginning treatment for patients with upper-respiratory illnesses as early as late September.

The Ontario government, meanwhile, has announced a new screening tool for students and their families. It’s online at https://covid-19.ontario.ca/school-screening/.

For more information on COVID-19, including symptoms, safety tips, and booking a test, visit hpepublichealth.ca or call 613-966-5500 or toll-free 1-800-267-2803 (TTY: 711 or 1-800-267-6511).

 

 

 


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