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Rapid testing centre will provide drop-in service for returning First Nation residents

Operated by Keewatin Tribal Council in a building on Nelson Road in Thompson, the centre will be open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Friday.

Residents of Northern Manitoba First Nations who need to prove that they don’t have COVID-19 after making trips to Thompson now have a drop-in location where they can get rapid tests.

Keewatin Tribal Council’s (KTC) rapid testing centre, located in the old Army, Navy and Air Force building on Nelson Road, across from The Brick  opened Jan. 24 and will be in operation from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Friday.

Intended only for people without symptoms who need a negative CVID-19 test before returning to a First Nation, some of which are now starting to have land connections with winter road season arriving, the testing centre will be staffed by 10 people and able to accommodate up to 30 test subjects at a time.

“These tests are 15-minute tests,” said KTC health director John Spence at the site on Jan. 21, a few days prior to its opening. “We’re going to provide them with a letter as well saying the day they got tested, what time and it’ll have the KTC letterhead.”

The process of getting a test will begin with a screening at the door, says Katherine Nazzie of KTC, which will include a question about whether the person seeking a test has any cold- or flu-like symptoms.

“If it’s yes, you’ll refer them to the clinic and not even come through the door,” she said.

Once inside, people wanting tests will have their temperature taken, their relevant information recorded and then will be given a test to self-administer and then wait for the results. Staff members will be available to help elders and others who are unable to swab themselves for the rapid test.

Those who get a negative result will pick up their letters and then exit the building through the back door.

“We’re expecting to turn some people away because they’ve got to have some kind of proof that they’re from this community and that they’re travelling back,” says Spence.

Some non-residents such as truck drivers or contractors who have a legitimate reason to travel to a First Nation may also get tests at the centre if they need to.

“Some companies have their own but the majority of First Nations people, they don’t have that type of service,” Spence says. “That’s why we’re here.”

The building, which KTC took possession of just last week, wasn’t purchased expressly for this purpose but it will be a good way to use the space until it is ready for its ultimate aim – to serve as a home for KTC’s Jordan’s Principle clinics, says KTC executive director George Neepin.

“We’ll have a lot of specialists coming in from Winnipeg and we don’t have capacity at our office on Nickel Road,” he said.

KTC also purchased the vacant lot adjacent to the building for parking.

“There is a definite need for [this service],” Neepin says. “The winter roads will be open so there’ll be a lot of traffic here. Once everybody knows that this site is open, it’s going to get very busy.”