What happens in an NWT coronavirus test?

Last modified: March 16, 2020 at 1:56pm

Hi. I’m Ollie. I run the Cabin Radio newsroom and I had a coronavirus test carried out in Yellowknife last week. Here’s how it worked.

I have been in self-isolation since returning from the United Kingdom last week. I had some mild symptoms so I called Public Health in Yellowknife on Friday morning.

On the phone, a member of staff at Public Health ran through a basic questionnaire about my travel history and symptoms. They decided a test would be a good idea and promised to call me back.


About an hour later, I got a call asking me to come to a local healthcare building’s side door at 2pm for a test.

(The chief public health officer is asking anyone with symptoms to call your local healthcare provider first. Do not just go to a hospital or health centre! From my first call to being tested took only five hours, so you’ll be helped quickly.)

By phone, I had been asked to enter the building by ringing a bell at a side door to ensure people in the main reception area weren’t exposed to anyone with symptoms.

At 2pm, I duly turned up and rang the bell at the side door. A member of staff in protective gear let me in and ensured I wore a face mask before proceeding any further. (I was already wearing one, just in case, but if you don’t have one you’ll be given one.)

After that, the test is like a normal visit to your doctor. I had my blood pressure and temperature tested, we ran through a few more questions about my health, and then the swab was carried out.


Depending on your symptoms, the swab involves either your throat or nose. In my case, it was the nose.

More: NWT government coronavirus FAQs, including testing

Getting that swab involves a healthcare professional sticking what amounts to a tiny little brush quite far up your nose for five seconds and giving it a good swipe around.

That was not a comfortable sensation, but it lasted for a few seconds only and it’s a one-time thing.


That was the end of the test. You wear your face mask while leaving the building and then, once you’re outside, back to self-isolation you go to await the results.

Initial results are said to take three to four days to arrive. My result isn’t back yet.

The test is first sent to a lab in Alberta for what is known as a “presumptive” result. Once that test is complete, it takes an extra three or four days to get a final, confirmed result from the National Microbiology Laboratory. (This is why there’s a difference when national officials report the number of presumptive cases and the number of confirmed cases.)

In the meantime, nobody at Cabin Radio has had close contact with me since I got back, and I haven’t been to our office, so it’s business as usual for all other staff at the station. As you’ve probably seen, our news reporting operation continues. I just get to do it from my sofa for the next little while.

We’ll keep you updated about coronavirus and the NWT every time there is something new and official to report. We’re rooting for everyone and encouraging everyone to look after each other, follow the advice, and help our incredible healthcare staff.