Nearly 1,300 people on Manitoulin given COVID-19 testing

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No active cases indicated as of press time Monday

MANITOULIN – Increasing numbers of Islanders are undertaking COVID-19 tests through Manitoulin health providers, according to statistics on weekly test volume collected by testing centres and shared with The Expositor, reflecting growing numbers as testing criteria have eased and more people undergo precautionary assessments whether or not they are symptomatic.

Some 1,237 tests have been completed at Manitoulin Health Centre (MHC)’s assessment centres at the Little Current and Mindemoya hospital testing sites since the week of March 9 to 15 until the most recent data point, July 9.

While only four tests were conducted in that first week, by the peak week of June 15 to 21, 167 tests were completed, an average of more than 30 tests per weekday.

Testing numbers have since levelled off to 139 in the latest week with full data, June 29 to July 5.

When the pandemic was sweeping through Canada earlier this year, many jurisdictions were caught unprepared and had limited supplies of COVID-19 test kits as well as personal protective equipment for health care workers. 

As such, tests were initially limited to people who were presenting with known symptoms of COVID-19 and people who had contact with a known case of the novel coronavirus.

In the time since then, as the situation has stabilized and supply levels have increased, testing requirements have loosened to the point that anyone can now be tested for the virus.

This has coincided with a growing list of symptoms. The virus began with a short list of respiratory symptoms as well as a fever and exhaustion, but has now grown to include rashes, loss of taste or smell, sore throat, diarrhea or pink eye, among other possible signs.

MHC was not the only place to offer COVID-19 testing in the District of Manitoulin. Paramedics from the Manitoulin-Sudbury District Services Board (DSB) have been partnering with health centres throughout the board’s catchment area to offer at-home testing for those with mobility issues or those who are at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19.

The DSB organized testing through MHC’s assessment centres; screening staff at the assessment centres would determine if it would be better for a patient to receive a home test and referred them to the DSB to co-ordinate an appointment.

As such, the paramedic testing figures are reflected within MHC’s totals. Based on total figures from the DSB, which could not break down the figures to a weekly level by press time Monday, paramedics tested 196 people in the District of Manitoulin as of July 16.

Of note, the DSB paramedics have fully taken over the staffing of MHC’s two assessment centres effective Friday, July 3. The contract for those services extends until July 25 but may be extended at that time.

Noojmowin Teg Health Centre has conducted two rounds of asymptomatic employee testing in partnership with Mnaamodzawin Health Services. In its first round, it tested 43 individuals. Executive director Danielle Wilson said there were plans in development to run precautionary employee tests every month.

Both the Northeastern Manitoulin Family Health Team (NEFHT) and Assiginack Family Health Team (ASSFHT) have offered testing clinics for people in their communities for various reasons.

Anyone travelling to Health Sciences North in Sudbury for a specialist appointment or any other medical procedure is required to have completed a COVID-19 test before presenting at the hospital. Family health teams on the Island have been offering those tests.

Gore Bay Medical Centre and the Manitoulin Central Family Health Team have been largely sending their testing requests to the Mindemoya MHC assessment centre.

ASSFHT has offered in-office testing for asymptomatic patients who have to travel for a medical appointment, as well as Tuesday testing clinics in the past three weeks. On its first Tuesday, the clinic conducted 15 tests, which grew to 28 the next week. 

When The Expositor spoke with ASSFHT executive director Sandra Pennie this past Monday morning, there were 12 appointments booked for the July 21 testing Tuesday, with more expected to sign up.

In addition to the 43 Tuesday tests, the family health team has conducted 19 other tests for other purposes for a total of 62 tests.

NEFHT executive director Judy Miller told The Expositor that the health team was only testing its own staff until two weeks ago, when it shifted to testing asymptomatic patients within its practice.

Ms. Miller has set up four COVID nurse roles—two physicians’ assistants and two nurse practitioners. Her focus was initially on the health care workers in the health team or at the adjacent MHC Little Current site but soon found there were many asymptomatic people seeking tests before they attended Sudbury specialist appointments or visited loved ones at long-term care facilities.

To take some of the burden off the main testing centres, NEFHT opened a regular testing clinic for its patients.

It has since expanded its offerings to adjacent communities such as Wiikwemkoong and Whitefish River First Nation, helping to train their staff to run their own testing centres.

About 50 people got swabbed in Whitefish River First Nation and Wiikwemkoong in the first week of testing. Nine got tested in the clinic’s first week and seven were booked for this past Thursday, July 16.

The family health team offers asymptomatic testing within its space and directs anyone with symptoms of COVID-19 to get tested at the assessment centre. Ms. Miller said this was to ensure the family health team clients were not exposed to unnecessary risk.