GGD will never be ready for pandemic, health service says on last day of Covid testing
The GGD health services will never be able to fully prepare for the next pandemic, but they will be more ready than three years ago, said Moniek Pieters, the “portfolio holder” for testing at the GGD. Friday is the last day that the GGD test centers will be open for testing people with coronavirus symptoms for Covid-19.
Minister Ernst Kuipers of Public Health decided last week that large-scale testing for the coronavirus is no longer necessary because it no longer has any added value. Anyone who wants a PCR test after Friday, for example, for a trip abroad, can go to a commercial testing company. The health authorities will continue to do sewage checks for the virus and monitor the number of hospital admissions to detect more pathogenic or more contagious variants of the virus.
The coronavirus arrived in the Netherlands at the beginning of 2020. Initially, GGD employees visited people who may have been infected, Pieters said. “They went by car to someone’s house and took a sample there. When the virus started to spread, it became clear that it had to be done on a different scale.” From June 2020, anyone with symptoms could go to a GGD test site to get tested. “On the first day, we already received 320,000 calls from people who wanted to make an appointment.”
In the late summer of 2020, there was a lot of criticism of the test operation. People had to wait days before getting tested and then more days for the results. Pieters attributes these problems to, among other things, a shortage of test material and the capacity of the labs that had to analyze the tests.
Whether that would immediately improve in the event of a new pandemic, she cannot say. The GGDs have grown wiser during the coronavirus years. They now know a lot better how to quickly recruit a lot of people for something like large-scale testing. During the summer of 2020, the services also switched to digitally passing on the results instead of calling everyone individually. If there is another pandemic, the 25 GGDs will also be able to cooperate more smoothly with each other, with laboratories, with the Ministry of Public Health, and with employment agencies, Pieters believes.
But who knows what the next virus will require? “You never know what’s coming. Suppose next time everyone has to get blood drawn for a test.” Building up stocks of test material now makes little sense.
The GGDs do have a file of temporary workers who assisted during the pandemic when testing had to be scaled up. “Those are people who said: you can call me again. But yes, if we are years later, you have to start from scratch.” The GGDs don’t have a surplus of staff now that the test centers are closing. Most of the workers there had temporary contracts.
Later in the pandemic, GGD employees faced aggression. Although that was “not nice,” Pieters would “not lose sleep over it in the next pandemic. It was really a ripple in the wave of positive reactions. We received so many flowers, cards, and cake from people who were grateful to us.” Pieters is, therefore, particularly proud of what the GGDs achieved over the past three years to combat the coronavirus. “We got through it.”
The GGDs will say goodbye to large-scale testing with a symbolic “final test” in Tiel. At the end of the day, all test locations will close.
The vaccination locations will remain open, even though the Minister has already decided there will be no new round of injections this spring. People with a high medical risk who have a referral from a medical specialist can still receive a repeat vaccination. People aged 12 or older who have not yet been vaccinated against Covid-19 at all or, for example, have not yet had their repeat shot can also still go to the GGD for that.
Reporting by ANP