Local volunteers preparing rapid test kits for schools, workplaces

By Stephen Wentzell

Pat Lee already works full-time in the hospital, but that hasn’t stopped her from volunteering on the front lines of COVID-19 testing.

Lee is part of a rapid testing team, putting together the rapid test kits that go out to schools, workplaces and libraries. 

Putting rapid test kits together is both easy and mindless, Lee says, marking a welcome change from her work in the healthcare sector. Each item – including the nose swab, the testing bar, and a contraption to put test droplets into – arrives at the facility in bulk, before Lee puts all the moving parts together.

“You basically just get all the little separate components and lay them out in front of you and just go,” Lee explained, noting that sometimes volunteers were packaging 2–5 kits per bag in order to meet demand at local libraries.

While Lee is quick to say her job is small and calls herself “a cog in the wheel,” she’s pleased to be making meaningful change in trying to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lee finds she’s generally able to put together 25 rapid test kits every 30 minutes. With each shift lasting 3–4 hours, Lee can complete between 150 and 200 kits at a time.

“One afternoon when I was there, we were making kits specifically that were going up to Antigonish,” Lee said, adding that infectious disease expert Dr. Lisa Barrett dropped by herself to pick them up. 

When Lee began packaging rapid test kits, she was one of 50 volunteers. But as the Omicron variant began tearing through the province, the team doubled their staff to 100 volunteers. 

While each worker puts the kits together at their own speed, using Lee’s pace, 100 volunteers working four-hour shifts could package more than 17,000 rapid test kits each day. 

“It's quite an impressive operation,” Lee said. “You just follow the directions when you get there of how many are required in each bag and then and then they have other people there who take the boxes that you produce and put them in bigger boxes [to] get labelled.”

Lee also recently did a volunteer shift at the Halifax Stanfield International Airport, handing out the same rapid test kits to domestic travellers arriving in Nova Scotia that she packaged the day before.

“I think most people want to feel like they've contributed in some way, even if it's something as simple as following [public health] orders,” Lee said, calling the experience gratifying. “I’ll happily continue if they [keep] on offering volunteering opportunities.”

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