How Nova Scotia Delivered 400,000 Rapid COVID Tests in the Blink of an Eye

HALIFAX – Enter a Nova Scotia public library.

Say a reasonable facsimile of: “Can I have a rapid COVID test kit, please?”

Come out with a box containing five rapid COVID-19 tests.

That’s it. Simple as that. No problem. Without ruffling. Penniless.

An important caveat though: if you haven’t already done so, you may be out of luck.

This is because the vast majority of the 400,000 rapid tests that the Nova Scotia government distributed through the provincial library system as of Monday were discontinued almost immediately, even with a limit of one per person. By Tuesday morning, library officials said, most branches were closed.

A man enters the Tantallon branch of the Halifax Public Library after he ran out of rapid COVID tests in Tantallon, NS, on December 14.

As Ontario moves to expand its rapid test distribution, Nova Scotia has been at the forefront of national efforts to democratize testing, and acceptance has been noted.

“We are impressed by Nova Scotia’s commitment to testing,” said Health and Wellness spokesperson Marla McInnis.

He said the province expects another 400,000 tests from the federal government next week; They will also be distributed to the general public through libraries and, judging from the demand in the various branches, they are not expected to last long either.

It is simply the latest chapter in Nova Scotia’s affinity for rapid testing, an ongoing push by the provincial government for take-home testing to reach as many people as possible.

Almost weekly, the province announces new pop-up rapid test sites in public buildings, legion halls, community centers and libraries. Home kits are also distributed from these sites, as well as through a Public Health mobile unit.

Volunteer Imelda Montinola introduces travelers arriving at Halifax Stanfield International Airport with rapid COVID-19 tests.

Home test kits are sent home with elementary school children, pre-primary through sixth grade.

And if you’re flying into Halifax Stanfield International Airport right now, you’ll be greeted by volunteers in Christmas hats offering a free quick test or two to take home. Those tests, more than 100,000 of them, have been delivered to the airport since March of this year, although mostly without the festive headdress.

It is not known to what extent rapid tests have been responsible for the low rate of COVID-19 cases in the province, but it appears that at least Ontario is taking notice.

In Ontario, which had previously limited its distribution of rapid tests to certain high-risk companies, schools and regions, there is pressure on the general public to reach out to more free rapid tests.

“The province will launch a Christmas test bombardment next week to offer voluntary rapid antigen detection to asymptomatic people at no charge,” Health Ministry spokeswoman Anna Miller said in an email. “Two million rapid tests will be provided at emerging test sites in high-traffic environments such as shopping malls, retail stores, holiday markets and transit centers.”

Welcome to Halifax?  here's your rapid COVID test.  Volunteer Imelda Montinola, along with Heather Patterson, left, hand out test kits to passengers at the airport Tuesday.

In Nova Scotia’s approach, it is making use of an existing built-in distribution network to rapidly test residents, one it had previously used at the start of the pandemic to distribute masks.

“Within each of our regional library systems, we have our own distribution network,” said Åsa Kachan, chief librarian and general manager of Halifax Public Libraries. “Every day at the Halifax Public Library, we have trucks moving between our locations.

“What it means is that the province can take advantage of our existing distribution networks within our districts and use them to distribute things beyond the books.”

On the receiving end, those library branches are often central and well known to the communities they serve. And that means easy access to rapid test kits for residents, he said.

“A lot of the success we’ve had during COVID has been just tapping into that sense of trust that exists in the community for the public library and that has meant that people honestly know that that mask will be free or that the trial will be free because the library offers free services. “

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