How Nova Scotia is a trailblazer for free, accessible COVID testing | COVID-19 | Halifax, Nova Scotia | THE COAST
Nova Scotia’s various testing methods allow pretty much anyone to get tested for COVID-19 for free, any time they want.THE COAST
Nova Scotia’s various testing methods allow pretty much anyone to get tested for COVID-19 for free, any time they want.THE COAST

How Nova Scotia is a trailblazer for free, accessible COVID testing

There are nearly a dozen methods and reasons a person could get tested.

When Nova Scotians tell friends and family in other parts of the world about their COVID tests, they’re often met with confusion. “Were you exposed?” “Are you sick?” “Is everything OK?”

In jurisdictions like Ontario, where a COVID test can go for $40 at the local pharmacy, many people have never gotten a swab at all. Other provinces are just now launching workplace testing programs and asymptomatic testing programs, similar to those that have been in place here for months.

Compare that to Nova Scotia—where public health head Robert Strang encourages everyone to get tested weekly—and you’ve got a major discrepancy.

Strang has said a higher rate testing means Nova Scotia’s reported COVID case count is more accurate. Lisa Barrett, in charge of rapid testing in the Halifax area, agrees. “What we're recommending at the moment, is not just that people get tested when the numbers are high, but also get tested weekly,” doctor Barrett told The Coast in May.

It seems Halifax and the rest of Nova Scotia may have something to teach the rest of the country and the world when it comes to offering free, accessible, often-rapid testing in a wide variety of settings.

Here are all the ways Nova Scotia has been testing its residents, workers and returning travellers throughout the pandemic.

COVID exposure PCR testing
This is the obvious method, and has been happening since the earliest days of the pandemic. If somewhere you’ve been is on the exposures list, you can easily head to the provincial booking website and make an appointment. During the third wave, the province has averaged about 6,000 of these tests every day, including weekends. (And including the infamous backlog of 45,000 PCR tests.)

Rapid testing
Nova Scotia’s pride and joy (and our bragging rights) are because of rapid testing, led in HRM by Lisa Barrett and in other locations by Praxes. Popular testing sites like the Convention Centre, the Halifax Central Library and the Alderney Library were each testing up to 2,000 people a day at the peak of the third wave, and finding about 12 percent of the province’s COVID cases.

Pop-up testing
These are testing centres in communities that have COVID outbreaks. Nova Scotia can quickly allocate its testing resources to wherever there may be an outbreak or community spread, and these have popped up in all parts of the province, from HRM to Wolfville to Cape Breton.

Mobile units
The province has a total of eight mobile units, but usually due to staffing and other resources, only one or two are deployed at any given time. Locations can be found on the test booking website, and have included everywhere from the top of Citadel Hill and the Halifax Common to a fire station in Sydney.

Mandatory airport testing (for rotational workers)
Since early June, most fully vaccinated rotational workers returning to Nova Scotia haven’t had to self-isolate, but they must get three COVID tests—on days one or two; five or six; and 12, 13 or 14 after coming back to NS.

Voluntary airport testing (for everyone else)
Since early June, the Halifax Stanfield International Airport has had the option for incoming travellers to take home self-administered COVID tests. On June 7, Robert Strang said these people could leave quarantine to drop them off at PACs or have someone else pick them up for them.

Businesses testing employees
Some larger Nova Scotian corporations and those that have a lot of employees who travel, like Irving, have acquired their own COVID tests. Typically, these aren’t part of the provincial testing program, but are purchased by the company and processed privately. The province also recently announced a partnership with 275 businesses totalling 50,000 employees who will partake in workplace testing.

Hospital testing for admitted patients
If you’re being admitted to the hospital for a surgery or an emergency, one of the first procedures will be a COVID screening and then, in many cases, a test. This is done to prevent more incidents like the Halifax Infirmary outbreak in May 2021, which quickly spread to 15 people within the unit.

Outbreak testing
Some schools, apartment buildings and offices that have had “outbreaks” have had special pop-up testing units directly in the building. Examples have included the Oulton’s Poultry Plant in the Annapolis Valley, the King’s Wharf apartment building and near schools with confirmed cases.

Long-term care testing
Since the first wave, long-term care homes have been a central focus of the province’s COVID monitoring. It’s unclear at this point whether LTC homes are still actively testing, but as of May 13 the province says all residents and staff have been given the opportunity to get fully vaccinated.

About The Author

Victoria Walton

Victoria was a full-time reporter with The Coast from April 2020 until mid-2022, when the CBC lured her away. During her Coast tenure, she covering everything from COVID-19 to small business to politics and social justice. Originally from the Annapolis Valley, she graduated from the University of King’s College...
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