UPDATE: COVID-19 testing site being developed for New Westminster

New West residents may soon be able to be tested for COVID-19 closer to home.

A report to council states that the city is working closely with Fraser Health on the establishment of a COVID-19 testing site that would primarily serve residents of New Westminster.

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“The testing site would include a walk-in and vehicular component, with the latter requiring parking and queuing capacity for between 250 and 350 vehicles per day,” states the report. “As proposed, the testing site would be operational until March 2021.”

According to the city’s vulnerable and at-risk populations task force, seven possible sites were identified and two are now being considered: the former recycling depot site and a portion of the southwest parking lot of the Canada Games Pool and Centennial Community Centre, and Tipperary Park and a portion of the southeast parking lot of New Westminster City Hall.

“Fraser Health board approval has been granted to proceed with the former; however, its establishment and ongoing operation may be impacted by the construction schedule for the new aquatic and community centre,” said the report. “Based on this approval, discussions are underway between the city and Fraser Health related to a lease or license agreement.”

Earlier this year, the city closed its recycling depot at Sixth and McBride as part of the planned construction of the new aquatic and community centre. When the pandemic hit, the city announced it was delaying construction of the new facility.

In addition to this proposed testing site, the city is also advocating for Fraser Health to establish mobile or satellite testing sites, possibly in conjunction with non-profit societies, to serve the city’s street-entrenched population and seniors and persons with disabilities. The task force states it’s likely the testing site for the street-entrenched population would be located in the downtown, while the facility targeting seniors and persons with disabilities would be located uptown.

Dr. Victoria Lee, Fraser Health’s president and CEO, said Fraser Health is working with the city to find a suitable site for a testing facility in New Westminster.

“It’s all preliminary at this point,” she said during a Sept. 18 teleconference with media. “We can share more information as soon as the details are finalized.”

Lee said Fraser Health is working to ensure it plans ahead for COVID-19 testing capacity across the region. She a newly opened test collection centre in Surrey could conduct as many as 800 COVID-19 tests per day.

“One of the important areas we are looking at is having accessibility across different municipalities and communities,” she said.

Dr. Elizabeth Brodkin, Fraser Health’s interim chief medical health officer and vice-president of population health, responded to a question about the average wait time at testing centres.

“It varies from hour to hour and day to day,” she said, “but currently, seven out of our 10 testing sites have wait times of under an hour.”

As of Sept. 17, the ministry of health was reporting there had been a total of 7,663 COVID-19 cases in B.C. since the beginning of the pandemic. This includes 3,937 case in the Fraser Health region 2,714 cases in the Vancouver Coastal Health region, 489 in the Interior Health region, 241 in the Northern Health region, 196 in the Island Health region and 86 cases of people who reside outside of Canada.

On Sept. 17, the province reported 165 new cases. As of that day there were 1,705 active cases of COVID-19 in B.C., with 57 individuals hospitalized, including 22 in intensive care.

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