Central Alberta pharmacies ramp up COVID-19 testing

Province extended 20-pharmacy pilot project to more than 90 last month

Red Deer pharmacist Dev Aggarwal has been getting at least a dozen calls a day from people looking for COVID-19 tests.

Westpark Drugs will not begin taking appointments and begin asymptomatic testing until Wednesday, but he’s happy to see the interest.

“People should get tested if they can,” he said.

“I think it’s a great idea for pharmacies to help out and speed up the process,” said Aggarwal.

Aggarwal estimated he is getting 10 to 15 calls a day since the Alberta government expanded a 20-pharmacy pilot project to up to more than 90 druggists, including four in Red Deer, two in Sylvan Lake and one in Ponoka.

Pharmacies offering testing are posted on Alberta Blue Cross’s COVID-19 website.

Pharmacists and other health officials say it is important for people to be aware that pharmacy testing is for people who are asymptomatic — showing no symptoms of the virus — and have no known exposure to someone who has COVID-19.

Alberta Health Services says anyone with COVID-19 symptoms or known exposure should complete the COVID-19 self-assessment or call Health Link 811.

AHS will directly contact any Albertan who tests positive to discuss the results, begin contact tracing, and protect the public’s health.

Each pharmacy must adhere to strict protocols and have the specialized skills in place needed to protect patient safety, says the government.

Aggarwal, who has set up an enclosed booth for testing, said each throat swab test takes about five to 10 minutes. Those tested should get their results within 48 hours.

Testing kits have already arrived, said Aggarwal, who will be meeting with his staff this week to get ready.

“Before we do it, we’re going to have a meeting with the pharmacists and staff members to make sure everybody is on the same page, said Aggarwal, who owns the pharmacy at 3722 57th Ave.

Red Deer London Drugs pharmacy manager Doug Higham said he expects to begin taking appointments and start testing on Monday.

He too is getting about a dozen or so calls a day at the pharmacy at 2404 Gaetz Ave., he said.

“I think it shows there’s a lot of interest. It’s good that people are aware.”

Red Deer’s Save-On Foods, 6720 52nd Ave., was part of the original group of testing pharmacies and continues to take appointments. Real Canadian Superstore, 5016A 51st Ave., is also testing.

It has proven popular. The wait list at both pharmacies was about two weeks on Thursday.

Alberta Health Services says asymptomatic testing is particularly encouraged:

• Before or after spending time with individuals who have a higher risk of serious health outcomes (e.g., anyone over 65 or with underlying medical conditions);

• Before or after travelling internationally, attending an event with recent travellers or hosting them;

• Before or after participating in activities or events that may have put you at a higher risk of exposure (e.g., a large gathering where physical distancing was not followed);

• For frontline workers who have regular interactions with Albertans, particularly those at higher risk of serious outcomes.



pcowley@reddeeradvocate.com

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