drive thru covid

This is what it's like working at a drive-thru COVID-19 test centre in Canada right now

Drive-thru COVID-19 tests are beginning to pop up all across Canada in an effort to ramp up screening.  

The drive-thru assessments help keep people out of the already busy emergency and hopefully relieve pressure on hospitals. 

Samara Adler is volunteering as a medical first responder with St. John Ambulance at the biggest drive-thru clinic in Montreal, which opened yesterday.  

In an interview with Freshdaily, she talked about what it was like on the ground. 

Adler's day starts at 7:30 am, just 30 minutes before the site officially opens. And while she's been with St. John Ambulance since 2015, this gig was a little bit different from what she usually does as a volunteer. 

"This is not our normal work. We were mobilized to do our role following the evolution of the pandemic," she explains. 

St. John Ambulance is a non-profit with a goal to provide first aid and first aid training to the community. You'll often see volunteers at sporting events, concerts and other community events. 

"When the situation with the pandemic started, all events were cancelled and when Montreal started this new testing centre, we were called to assist with all first aid at the drive-thru."

The drive-thru screening clinic is located at Place des Festivals in downtown Montreal. It's open from 8 a.m to 8 p.m., seven days a week and has the capacity do between 2,000 and 2,500 tests a day. Test results will be available within 24 to 72 hours, according to CTV News.

On the first day, Adler says there was an initial morning rush and she was worried the social distancing rules weren't going to be respected. 

But she says there weren't hoards of people, and the clinic had it well organized. They planned it out with red dot markers telling you where you had to stand as you waited for your turn. There were also masks given out and plenty of stations to wash your hands.  

"It was so quickly organized and really well done. I was really impressed with how well [the social distancing] was respected," Adler commented. 

People can go to the clinic either in their car or on-foot, explains Adler. When they first get there, there's an initial screening where they're asked questions about exposure and symptoms.   

This initial screening either happens while the person stays in their car or, if they're on foot, in a small tent.  If the person doesn't need to be tested, they are handed a pamphlet with more information about COVID-19 and are free to leave. 

"If they are deemed to need a test then they go park and go into a big tent," details Adler.

There are two big heated tents for testing  — heated because everything is outdoors and yesterday was a chilly -3 C. 

"It was pretty cold," said Adler. "As temperatures get warmer we might see more people getting tested."

The Montreal site wasn't at capacity on Monday, but there were definitely times where it was busier according to Adler. In particular, lunch and after what would be the normal 9-5 work day. 

On site there's at least one supervising doctor, hundreds of nurses and at least four to five St. John Ambulance volunteers to help with first aid needs. 

"We are doing what we're trained to do which is provide first aid but doing that with extra security measures," says Adler, explaining that the volunteers had to don the full protective gear including the blouse, surgical mask, protective eye wear and gloves. The healthcare workers are also in the same protective gear. 

While Adler wasn't doing any testing, she told Freshdaily that she and the other volunteers were monitoring the situation continually, especially as tensions were high. 

"As much as we are trying to diffuse the stress, there is stress and uneasiness with a lot of people," she said. "All of the cases we were treating were related to stress and anxiety due to the pandemic." 

For example, Adler treated one woman who had just tested positive and was feeling dizzy and unwell. 

"She was anxious," she said. "We did breathing exercises with her and told her to go eat since she hadn't eaten before the test. Before she left we made sure she was stable."

As a medical student at University of Montreal who was pulled out of the hospital two weeks ago, Adler said it felt good to contribute again.  

"It was nice to help the healthcare system again," she said.

While everything seemed to go smoothly on the first day, Adler did note there wasn't an abundance of supplies. 

"We were told to be careful and not waste supplies," she says, advising that before people come to get tested, they check with the latest guidelines. 

"St. John Ambulance's motto is 'saving lives at work, home and play' — The home part is more important than ever." 

Not all testing sites have been this well organized or efficient. For example, there have been complaints about Montreal's Hotel-Dieu Hospital testing site. People say they are often crowded together in the entrance while waiting to be tested. And in Ontario, people are waiting almost a week to receive test results.

On Sunday, Ottawa said it will intervene to step up COVID-19 testing in regions experiencing delays.

Lead photo by

Karoline Bergeron


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