It was the end of an era when Swale’s first mass coronavirus testing center for people without Covid-19 symptoms closed for the last time.

At its peak, staff at the Sheerness East Working Men’s Club in Halfway, Sheppey were testing 700 people a day for around £ 45 at a time. When it closed this evening (Friday), only 43 had been reserved.

The team on the steps of Sheerness East WMC on the last day of Sheppey’s asymptomatic Covid testing station in Halfway
The team inside Sheerness East WMC on the last day of Sheppey's asymptomatic Covid testing station in Halfway
The team inside Sheerness East WMC on the last day of Sheppey’s asymptomatic Covid testing station in Halfway

Last day at the Sheppey Covid asymptomatic testing center

Paula Magri, 59, of Barton Hill Drive, Minster, was one of the first to volunteer to help and was still working at the center on the last day.

She said: “At first it was scary because we were so busy. The highest number we had one day was 684 and that was December 23, seven days after we opened. the line in the street. This number did not. Besides the staff tests, we all had to take a test every day.

“At the time, Sheppey was in crisis with one of the highest Covid rates in the country. Then demand stabilized at 300 to 500 per day.

“We had all kinds of people at the door, from little kids to 95 years old. They came for all kinds of reasons. Some needed a test because they were going abroad or attending a funeral. or were going to the hospital We have had a lot of expectant mothers who have come for tests on their way to pregnancy scans.

“And we had our regulars who I think come just as an excuse to chat. Some hadn’t been out of their homes for 15 months. They will be missed.”

Last shift at Paul Magri's reception at the Sheppey Covid Asymptomatic Testing Center in Sheerness East WMC, midway
Last shift at Paul Magri’s reception at the Sheppey Covid Asymptomatic Testing Center in Sheerness East WMC, midway
Part of the original team at Sheppey Covid Asymptomatic Testing Center at Sheerness East WMC, midway through, were back in action on their last day.  Photo: John Nurden
Part of the original team at the Sheppey Covid Asymptomatic Testing Center at Sheerness East WMC, halfway through, were back in action on their last day. Photo: John Nurden

At the height of the pandemic, the center had a list of 50 employees working shifts. Towards the end, it came down to 25.

Among the team that stayed at bay, along with Paula, were Tania Searle-Dighton of Minster, Thom Hodgkinson of Sittingbourne and Emma Tullett who happily lived in Eastchurch until her bungalow disappeared over the cliffs. last year.

Despite the domestic trauma of having to find a new home, Emma said, “It’s really good. I had a lot of fun.”

Tania added: “It was lovely. We met some amazing people that we will stay in touch with for the rest of our lives. We all thought it would only last six weeks, but it ended up being over seven. weeks. months. I’m really proud to have been a part of it. “

Testing officer Thom admitted, “There have been too many interesting experiments to pick one, but it has definitely been a learning curve. I learned how to administer the test and also how to detonate gloves. in plastic!” He was too polite to mention the Christmas Eve visitor who misunderstood the instructions and tried to poke her nose under the plexiglass screen to get it dabbed.

Borden tester Thom Hodgkinson on his last shift at the Sheppey Covid Asymptomatic Testing Center in Sheerness East WMC, midway
Borden tester Thom Hodgkinson on his last shift at the Sheppey Covid Asymptomatic Testing Center in Sheerness East WMC, midway
The Sheppey Covid asymptomatic testing center at Sheerness East WMC, halfway down, even had its own security guard in the form of Dan Scriven from Sittingbourne
The Sheppey Covid asymptomatic testing center at Sheerness East WMC, halfway down, even had its own security guard in the form of Dan Scriven from Sittingbourne
Last day of Sheppey's Asymptomatic Covid Test Station at Sheerness East Working Men's Club, Midway (48590283)
Last day of Sheppey’s Asymptomatic Covid Test Station at Sheerness East Working Men’s Club, Midway (48590283)

Another familiar face of the squad is security guard Dan Scriven, 30, of Sittingbourne, who keeps a close watch on the front door. He said: “There were only a few problems at the very beginning, but since then everyone has behaved very well.”

The center offered lateral flow tests that give results in 30 minutes. People tested should stick a cotton swab in the back of their throat to tickle their tonsils, then insert the same stick into both nostrils. It is not the most pleasant of experiences.

As of early Friday, the center had recorded 27,992 public tests. Staff were confident it would reach 28,000 when it closed. Daily staff testing pushed the figure even higher.

Paula Smith runs the social club and hosted the team with her manager Alison Dowling. Paula said: “It’s nice to have them here. Some have already left, but Paula and Thom are staying with me as staff once we close the center and reopen normally.

“It was nice to see our customers come through the door to be tested so that we could follow them. We had a lot of laughs, a lot of laughs and a lot of cakes! We will miss them.”

Paula Smith, left, and Alison Dowling of Sheerness East WMC, midway, hosted the Sheppey Covid Asymptomatic Testing Center
Paula Smith, left, and Alison Dowling of Sheerness East WMC, midway, hosted the Sheppey Covid Asymptomatic Testing Center

She also made sure that all the young people leave with a free candy. Unlike some centers, staff allowed a few Islanders to come without an appointment.

Paula said: “They realized that some older people in Sheppey didn’t like to book on the internet so we made it clear on our Facebook page that they could just drop by and would be inserted.”

The site was launched on December 17th by Kent County Council. On February 16, it recorded 21 positive results, the highest in a single day.

But he has not reported any positive results since April 17. Across Swale, out of 59,346 tests, only 522 (0.88%) of those tested were found to have Covid. But it’s still the highest figure in Kent. The public is now advised to use free home test kits.

As for the club, it is preparing to return to “normal”. The test booths will be dismantled on Monday and the hall will be thoroughly cleaned in time for the return of ballroom dancing lessons on Thursday.

What a difference: There were queues outside Sheppey's asymptomatic Covid testing center at Sheerness East WMC, midway, when it opened on December 17, 2020. Photo: John Nurden
What a difference: There were queues outside Sheppey’s asymptomatic Covid testing center at Sheerness East WMC, midway, when it opened on December 17, 2020. Photo: John Nurden
No queues outside Sheppey's asymptomatic Covid testing station at the Sheerness East Working Men's Club, midway, on her last day
No queues outside Sheppey’s asymptomatic Covid testing station at the Sheerness East Working Men’s Club, midway, on her last day

After that, Covid permitting, table tennis will return on Monday and Tuesday evenings, a choir will start rehearsals on Wednesday afternoons, the darts team will be able to use their darts again, pigeon fanciers will return on weekends and the rock ‘n’ roll club will be able to put everything back in place from next month.

Paula added: “Our reception hall is reserved until the end of the year for events after the coronavirus restrictions are over.”

Hopefully there will be no further positive results.

Test results without Covid symptoms where you live

Ashford

Total Tests: 46,862

Positive points: 169

Percentage: 0.36%

Canterbury

Total Tests: 54,958

Positive points: 346

Percentage: 0.63%

Dartford

Total Tests: 34,786

Positive points: 268

Percentage: 0.77%

Dover

Total Tests: 51,044

Positive points: 163

Percentage: 0.32%

Folkestone and Hythe

Total Tests: 45,749

Positive points: 160

Percentage: 0.35%

Gravesham

Total Tests: 36,355

Positive points: 218

Percentage: 0.60%

Maidstone

Total Tests: 70,701

Positive points: 283

Percentage: 0.40%

Sevenoaks

Total Tests: 43,138

Positive points: 164

Percentage: 0.38%

Swale

Total symptom-free tests: 59,346

Positive points: 522

Percentage: 0.88%

Thanet

Total tests: 59,946

Positive points: 288

Percentage: 0.48%

Tonbridge and Malling

Total Tests: 51,529

Positive points: 149

Percentage: 0.29%

Tunbridge Well

Total Tests: 46,011

Positive points: 138

Percentage: 0.30%

Read more: All the latest news from Sheppey



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