As the number of active cases of COVID-19 in New Brunswick approaches 1,000, hospital beds are in high demand but rapid tests are few and far between.
Last spring, when Nova Scotia was in a similar situation, the province turned to rapid testing.
“The lab in Nova Scotia that processes all the [polymerase chain reaction] samples got really overwhelmed. So our sites were starting to become responsible for this testing,” said Harriet Wright, a student at Dalhousie University who worked as a volunteer coordinator at a rapid testing site from January to August.
During the height of Nova Scotia’s third wave, Wright said her site would administer over 2,000 rapid tests per day.
“Now it’s very much the norm, and no one really thinks twice about it, even if you’re vaccinated,” said Wright.
In New Brunswick, rapid testing is more limited. Tests are being rolled out to unvaccinated students in public schools throughout the province.
On Oct. 14, N.B. Public Health announced that rapid testing would be available in circuit breaker zones. Two days later, another health update reported 37,500 rapid tests were distributed in these zones. Testing sites in Moncton, Perth-Andover and Grand Falls had to close early when they ran out of tests.
In the Oct. 16 update, Dr. Jennifer Russell, N.B.’s chief medical officer of health, emphasized the importance of getting a COVID-19 lab test after receiving a positive rapid test result.
“Everyone must remember that a rapid test is a screening test and is more reliable when completed regularly,” said Russell in the update.
Outside of the circuit breaker zones, many New Brunswickers rely on their workplace to access rapid testing. Emma Greene, a fourth-year STU student who works for the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber is providing rapid tests to businesses.
“It helps assure that you can come to work and be safe around the other employees and your coworkers,” said Greene.
At St. Thomas University, rapid testing is only available to unvaccinated students, according to student services.
“I feel like St. Thomas could do more to keep us safe in these times, especially when things are a lot worse this fall than they were last fall,” said Greene.
Jeffery Carleton, associate vice-president of communications at STU, said the school is following the recommendations of N.B. Public Health.
“If that changes and they make a recommendation, we will certainly follow that recommendation,” said Carleton.
Wright said in Nova Scotia, many universities made rapid testing accessible to all students.
“On-campus, they just dump bins with rapid [tests] everywhere and you can grab them,” said Wright, who had a rapid test in her bag.
Wright said rapid testing will be crucial during the fourth wave.
“Vaccines and rapid testing go hand-in-hand in creating a safe COVID living environment,” said Wright.