Sudbury’s COVID-19 assessment centre is hopping with expanded testing

The COVID-19 assessment centre in Sudbury has gotten a lot busier now that more people can be tested for the virus.

When it first opened last month in the Health Sciences North research centre on Walford Road, they were only taking swabs from about 20 patients each day.

Dr. Debbie Smith says they’re doing more than 100 tests per day now that anyone with any of the possible symptoms for COVID can be tested.

“Most of the symptoms for COVID-19 are similar to a common cold, but that’s why we need to be testing. Because some people may have symptoms that they are discounting and don’t really think are serious,” she says. 

“We really want to get a better picture of the burden of disease in our city. We really need to know how many people are affected by it.”

Dr. Debbie Smith came out of retirement to run the COVID-19 assessment centre for Health Sciences North in Sudbury. (Erik White/CBC)

A retired family physician, Smith was wintering in Florida when the pandemic hit and after two weeks in isolation, called up the Sudbury hospital looking to help out. 

“I felt I wanted to do something,” she says. 

“Everyone has the same goal of trying to stop this pandemic and we want to keep our patients safe and our staff safe.”

After calling ahead and making an appointment, patients are either swabbed at a drive-thru testing site in the parking lot or come inside to get the test in a spartan exam room. 

The COVID-19 assessment centre run by the Sudbury hospital offers drive-thru virus testing for patients with less serious pre-existing health conditions. (Erik White/CBC )

Smith says the sterile look of the centre, plus the staff wearing masks and face shields, can be very “unnerving” for people who are already wondering if they have the potentially deadly virus. 

“So that can be sometimes shocking and I’ve noticed that initially patients’ heart rates seem to be a little bit high, but after we talk to them for a minute or two it does seem to settle down,” she says. 

“We know it is a scary time and can be a scary visit for patients. We try to make them as comfortable as possible.”

A nurse at the Sudbury assessment centre holds a completed COVID test kit that will now be off to the laboratory. (Erik White/CBC )

Smith says she feels Sudbury is “in a good place” with the pandemic and hopes that the physical distancing will keep the virus from spreading further.

Personally, she is looking forward to giving her kids a hug, something with her new job and her Florida vacation, that she hasn’t done since last year. 

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