OTTAWA -- Residents of Vanier and Overbrook turned out by the dozens to get COVID-19 tests Saturday, at a first-of-its-kind mobile testing booth.

The community group ACORN helped to set up a mobile testing clinic, in conjunction with the Ottawa Hospital, CHEO, Ottawa Inner City Health, the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre and the Ottawa Paramedic Service.

The one-day clinic is on until 3 p.m. Saturday at Ogilvie North Park, 1059 Ogilvie Rd. It is piloting the Honey Group's "SMRT" mobile testing booth.

"It’s a positive pressure HEPA filtered booth. There are gloves that they can put their hands through. A patient will walk up, they can test that patient, they disinfect with the wipes outside the booth," Brock Mosley, VP of Strategic Partnerships with Honey Group told CTV News. "They also don’t have to burn through all of the PPE."

The location was chosen because it is close to two high rises on the eastern end of Donald Street, which ACORN says house "a concentration of newcomers, tenants whose first language isn’t English, low income families and people with disabilities."

In a press release, ACORN said residents in the area identified several barriers to getting COVID-19 tests.

"Common barriers to accessing testing include long bus routes with multiple transfers, fear of public transit, inability to afford the cost of a taxi, lack of internet access to stay informed and language barriers," the group said.

"We have an awful lot of senior's residences around here and transportation is just too difficult," ACORN's Vanier Chapter co-chair Stephanie Graham told CTV News at the scene.

For example, according to OC Transpo's travel planner, a trip from 1240 Donald St. to the COVID-19 assessment centre at 151 Brewer Way takes between 45 minutes and an hour by bus/train on a Saturday morning, with either a single, hour-long bus ride or one to two transfers, and anywhere from 10 to 25 minutes of estimated walking time. Returning from the assessment centre would take another 45 to 60 minutes.

Walking from 1240 Donald St. to the mobile testing centre would take approximately four minutes, according to Google Maps. 

"It’s very difficult to drive all the way out to Brewer where our main test facility is," said Beacon Hill-Cyrville Councillor Tim Tierney. "We see this as something as part of the new norm. Something that we can bring to communities that have transportation issues. As well as seniors that have mobility issues."

Mobile booth Watson

"It’s a first using this mobile booth. It was invented in Nepean, which is great, using local expertise and technology," Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson said.

The Ottawa Mission will provide food and there will be free masks, hand sanitizer and information pamphlets available to local residents who come for a test.

The clinic Saturday is the first of its kind for the Ottawa-based Honey Group. Several dozen people turned up for testing.

Medical Officer of Health Dr. Vera Etches said she was happy to see people making use of the new testing booth.

"It’s the first time that this booth has been used for clients, so I appreciate that people are willing to step up and make sure that this is a system that will work for us into the future," she said.

Data collected by Ottawa Public Health show racialized communities and immigrants are overrepresented in positive test results.

Two thirds of the positive cases studied by OPH in May and June were from racialized residents, despite just 26 per cent of Ottawa's population identifying as visible minorities.

Dr. Etches told city council in June that areas in Ottawa with the highest proportion of recent immigrants or racialized minorities have rates of COVID-19 almost twice that of areas with the fewest recent immigrants or racialized minorities.

Speaking on Saturday, Dr. Etches said mobile clinics can help vulnerable communities by providing more immediate access to tests.

"We need to get testing out to communities that are at higher risk," she said. "So, absolutely, lower income communities, we know it's possible the nature of their work and the types of housing situations can sometimes increase the risk of COVID-19."