Residents get COVID-19 testing in bus clinic

This story was published in print for the May 29 issue of Parc-Extension News. Some information may not be current.

Avleen K Mokha

bus clinic park extension parc metro covid-19 mobile testing
The bus clinic stands on Hutchison street, outside Parc metro. Taken on Thursday, May 21, 2020. Photo: Avleen K Mokha

Under public health directives, the city began using buses as mobile clinics for COVID-19 testing. The bus clinic visited Park Extension for the first time from May 19 to May 22 and a second time from May 25 to May 27. On May 19, the bus clinic did 179 tests — a record for the bus clinic.

Six to seven staff workers run the clinic, which has been set up by Parc metro station.

Five of the workers are nurses, which includes Park Extension resident Sasha Dyck. Dyck has 11 years of work experience. Right now, he splits his time between working at different testing sites.

“We’re a small team, but we are quick,” Dyck said.

The clinic can do a maximum of 200 tests daily. On Tuesday, May 19, the clinic neared its testing capacity with 179 tests — the highest turn-out for the bus clinic ever. On Wednesday, May 20, the clinic tested 163 residents. Thursday, the clinic tested 168.

“No one will be turned away,” Dyck said.

How it works

Circled with orange cones, the bus clinic can seem intimidating at first glance.

Social services for different regions of Montreal have one bus each. They are collaborating with public transport (STM), the experts when it comes to the bus’s structural design.

STM stripped of the bus of all seats, making space for up to three COVID-19 tests to run at once. White tarp partitions the space. With one non-medical staff member at the driver’s seat and three tests, a maximum of 8 people can occupy the bus at once.

Before getting in, residents line up outside. Each person in line get a single-use face mask and a staff member disinfects their hands.

bus clinic park extension parc metro covid-19 mobile testing
A staff member notes down contact information as a resident holds up his card. A colleague watches in the back with a box of masks and a spray bottle with disinfectant. Taken on Thursday, May 21, 2020. Photo: Avleen K Mokha

“Waiting times haven’t gone past twenty-five minutes,” Dyck said.

Most importantly, the staff needs to take down the resident’s name, phone number and email address.

To track the spread of COVID-19, the staff also asks if a resident feels ill, or if they know someone who tested positive.

Residents can bring their health insurance card and provide their postal code, but these are not required.

bus clinic park extension parc metro covid-19 mobile testing
CIUSSS staff member Anoushka Caroff sits at the bus driver seat with a computer to print a label for COVID-19 tests. Taken on Thursday, May 21, 2020. Photo: Avleen K Mokha

A non-medical staff member sits at the bus driver’s seat and enters this information and prints a unique label for the testing. 

Once the test is over, residents leave from the back door. Another staff member speaks with them and hands out pamphlets about local resources.

The test itself is quick. Once a resident sits down, a nurse uses a long plastic Q-tip to swab tonsils at the back of your throat. Next, the nurse swabs the nose.

“It’s uncomfortable, but not painful,” Dyck said. “Most importantly, it’s short. It takes about 10 seconds.”

Samples get picked up every two hours or so right from buses, to go to the lab of the respective CIUSSS. Park Extension’s samples go to the McGill University Health Center.

Health and social services test call back with results in 2-3 days. If asked, they can send a negative answer by email. But if a resident does test positive, a nurse calls to discuss the exact symptoms and living situation.

Disinfection procedure

The staff begins and ends its day at a site by the TOHU cultural center. That’s where they hear protocols for the day, load up boxes, and load up supplies. An employee drives them to Parc metro.

When the day ends, staff gets dropped off at TOHU again. STM does a complete disinfection before the bus is used again.

Who’s going?

Dyck says the bus clinic has seen residents between 5 to 85 years old come to get tested.

“The first day, we did have many Greek seniors,” Dyck said, referring to the same day when borough councillor went on the Greek radio

“I had several people tell me, I heard Mary. She told me to come and that’s why I came.”

The local challenges

Dr Juan Chirgwin is a family doctor at Park Extension’s CLSC.He believes language is a big challenge for the community during this emergency.

Dr Chirgwin approves of Deros’s efforts, not just on the Greek radio but on Radio Humsafar, a South Asian radio.

“These are good mediums to use to reach out to people,” Dr Chirgwin said.

Tests are done in English or French, but Dyck agrees that getting translators has been important.

“That’s why it helps to have someone on the bus who knows the community and the neighbourhood,” Dyck said.

Pamphlets circulate in 11 languages. When on site, Dyck has had luck with getting people to translate.

For example, Dyck asked someone in the line to translate on Hindi. The first day, the city councillor did translations into Greek. When the clinic needed someone to translate instructions into Hindi and Punjabi, one of Dyck’s friends came over to help.

“He came in 20 minutes, and he ended up helping for most of the day.”

Dr Chirgwin explains he went down shops on Oglivy street to distribute pamphlets in eight to nine different languages.

“I must have gone through at least 25 grocery stores, and I also went into two pharmacies to spread the word.”

bus clinic park extension parc metro covid-19 mobile testing
A resident leans in to hear a translator over the phone. Photo: Avleen K Mokha

Still, instances which need maneuvering language have happened. During the interview with Dyck, a middle-aged man stood in line. He did not have his phone number or email address and only spoke his language of origin.

Dyck got on the phone with someone he knows in the community. Happily, the community organizer offered her contact details.

“We went through a community organization so someone could accept results for him.”

But Dyck still had to tell the man where to go to pick up his tests. For that, he got a translator on the phone. Dyck and his colleague resolved the situation in under five minutes.

“People are just trying to help out,” Dyck said.

“We rely on each other. That’s the way we do it in Park Extension.”

A version of this story was published in the May 29 print issue for Parc-Extension News. Click here to read the full issue.

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