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Tapping into hotspots: Mobile COVID-19 tests coming to Vaughan

Other areas across York Region may also get mobile sites for easy, timely testing
July 20, 2020
Kim Zarzour

The city of Vaughan, the area hardest hit by COVID-19 in York Region, could soon see mobile testing sites touring the municipality.

The mobile testing unit -- possibly a bus or van equipped to do swabbing administered by nurses or physicians -- is expected to begin at local workplaces but could be expanded to include other institutions and community locations, according to Dr. Alanna Fitzgerald-Husek, associate medical officer of health.

The region is collaborating with Ontario Health Central Region and local hospitals to explore best locations for proactive surveillance testing.

Vaughan has experienced the highest number of COVID-19 cases in the region -- consistently double that of its nearest neighbour, Markham -- in a variety of settings including long-term care homes, workplaces and community transmission.

Fitzgerald-Husek said it is hoped the expanded testing will uncover any hidden cases or asymptomatic ones behind the spread.

The mobile sites will be advertised through the region and could be drive-through or set up in temporary locations, with specimens swabbed and sent to labs, she said.

More information is expected to be released next week regarding when and where the mobile sites will be set up.

Mobile sites have been conducting tests at local farms and long-term care homes.

Fitzgerald-Husek said the region is in discussions with interested workplaces in Vaughan. The test sites may also be brought to hot spots and areas where individuals have tested positive or where there is an increased risk.

Areas outside of Vaughan may also be visited by the mobile units, where “equity issues” or proximity to assessment centres (located at Southlake, Markham Stouffville and Mackenzie Health hospitals) present a challenge, she said.

The region’s public health reached out to Mackenzie Health to discuss potential ways to increase testing, as York Region, and the City of Vaughan in particular, has been identified as a hotspot, a hospital statement said.

Health officials are examining trends and local data to determine why Vaughan has been so hard hit by the coronavirus.

A recent deep-dive into the Vaughan story by found several factors including socio-economic trends, testing issues, attitudinal differences, types of workplaces and age demographics.

The City of Toronto has reported that the northwest area of the city -- abutting Vaughan -- is a hotbed of COVID-19 cases, and Fitzgerald-Hasek said the region is working on a co-ordinating approach with neighbouring health partners to address the problem.

Some Toronto neighbourhoods alongside the Vaughan border have case rates more than 10 times higher than the least-affected parts of the city.

The first “pop-up” community mobile site opened Saturday near Jane and Steeles in Toronto’s northwest region, a partnership between Ontario Health and Black Creek Community Health Centre.

Fitzgerald-Hasek said the Vaughan hotspot may have multiple causes, whether it’s the higher prevalence of industry in the area, the fact that there is no hospital yet in Vaughan, or influences coming from neighbouring jurisdictions.