British Columbia

Don't line up for coronavirus testing without calling 811 first, health officials say

Health-care officials are urging people to not wait in line at drop-in clinics, emergency rooms or urgent care centres for COVID-19 testing unless they have been specifically referred there by a medical professional.

Authorities asking people calling 811 to be patient with high call volumes

Patients wait inside the City Centre Urgent Primary Care Centre in Vancouver on Friday. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Health-care officials are urging people to not wait in line at drop-in clinics, emergency rooms or urgent care centres for COVID-19 testing unless they have been specifically referred there by a medical professional.

"Not everybody needs to be tested," said Dr. Bonnie Henry in response to reports of lineups and several hours-long waits at walk-in medical facilities across the Lower Mainland.

Authorities are reminding people to call 811 first if they believe they have symptoms. What happens after that will be decided by a doctor.

"Just so everybody understands, when we open such sites ... it's not for people to go if they haven't been referred there by anyone," said Health Minister Adrian Dix.

"We have to have tests for people who need tests, and those decisions will be made by medical professionals," Dix said.

Authorities are asking those who do need to call 811 to be patient as the centre is receiving high call volumes. Dix said the service received over 3,000 calls Wednesday, when it usually sees about 1,000 calls per day.

Olga Prodan said she wanted to get tested for coronavirus as a precaution after she returned from travelling in Germany recently. (Gian-Paolo Mendoza/CBC)

The reminder comes after the emergency room at St. Paul's Hospital and the City Centre Urgent Primary Care Centre in downtown Vancouver saw hours-long lineups of people looking to get tested for COVID-19.

Olga Prodan found herself caught in the confusion while waiting outside the care centre on Hornby Street in Vancouver. She said she was told to go there after she called 911.

"I was travelling to Germany 10 days ago, that's why I'm here," said the symptom-free Prodan, who waited outside the centre for almost four hours Friday.

"It's very hot, people coughing, people like really sick inside.... That's why I'm trying to be a little bit outside," she said.

Island Health also sent out a notice reminding people to contact their primary health provider or 811 first.

They said people who are assessed as requiring a followup will then be directed to call a clinic where a nurse will determine over the phone if testing is needed. 

Some people waiting in line at the urgent care centre said there were over 100 people in the queue earlier Friday. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Prodan said she did not know she was supposed to call 811 first.

Authorities said while they are glad people are taking precautions, they are saving tests for those who are showing symptoms.

"We know that it's not spreading widely in our community yet, and at some point if it is spreading quite widely, we won't be testing most people," Dr. Henry said. "We'll only be testing people who are in hospital or where there's a cluster or where there's an outbreak potential, so we're able to manage those effectively."

So far, 6,326 people have been tested for coronavirus, according to the B.C. Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC). There have been 53 confirmed cases in the province.

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