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Paramedic 'Swab Squad' shifts gears to test residents in facilities with COVID-19 outbreaks

Over 3,300 people tested for COVID-19 by squad of paramedics in care facilities since April 23

Facilities with COVID-19 outbreaks do not fear, the Swab Squad is here.

Once the local Public Health determined a need for COVID-19 testing in areas around Guelph and Wellington County a month ago, a crew of paramedics — dubbed the Swab Squad — immediately shifted their gears.

As call volumes for paramedics went down a little, paramedics from the Guelph Wellington Paramedic Service put aside their uniforms, wore safety gowns, boots, gloves and masks to swab members of the community in places such as long term care families and child care centres.

“We said we have a community paramedic program and they would be happy to help out,” said Swab Squad member Rebbecca Leis, adding that the team has seen immense support from their management team and the city.

Leis said while these centres might not be used to paramedics walking around covered in protective gear, the paramedics are 100 per cent there to keep the community safe. 

“Behind the masks, we’re smiling, we’re here to help you and we want to get you answers to get through this together,” said Leis. 

“There are a lot of people that are avoiding areas that could have a threat of COVID-19 and those are the places that we are every day anyways.”

Places that need to be tested are determined by Wellington Dufferin Guelph Public Health. Teams of two or more paramedics disperse in different locations. 

Since April 23, the crew of 10 paramedics in the Swab Squad tested 3,300 people in 25 facilities.

Leis said the team will continue to test as long as there is a need. 

Once paramedics swab individuals, the samples are dropped off at Public Health and taken to a lab to be tested. If returned positive, individuals are notified of their results through Public Health directly.

Leis said while the paramedics see a lot of kindness and compassion from both staff and patients at these facilities, the circumstances can be very heartbreaking to witness. 

“We see families who aren’t able to see their loved ones. We see them outside their windows of the patients that we’re testing,” said Leis. 

She said while the team has long stressful days, it’s very rewarding to be able to help the community. 

"I think we all feel like we’re actually making a difference at the end of the day and you get to see how you’re kind of making history."

Leis said the team also stepped up their protective gear. 

“There are very specific things that need to be worn. So for the person completing the test, they must be wearing to pairs of gloves, a droplet resistance gown, an N95 mask, protective eye-wear, face shield and scrub cap,” she said. 

“It’s definitely more than we are used to, but its the best protection from this virus.”