British Columbia

As cases climb, backlogs force some COVID-19 testing sites in Lower Mainland to turn people away

A surge of patients is causing backlogs at some COVID-testing sites in the Lower Mainland, forcing at least one to shut down early and turn people away.

'Honestly, it looks like we're in line to go to some festival,' said one patient

An RCMP officer near a sign at a COVID-19 testing facility in Burnaby, B.C., on Wednesday. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

A surge of patients is causing backlogs at some COVID-testing sites in the Lower Mainland, forcing at least one to shut down early and turn people away.

A number of people at Burnaby's Central Park testing site Friday told CBC News they had been turned away less than an hour after the site opened at noon.

"It's crazy," said one man from his car. "I'm not feeling well and that's why I came out."

Another woman, who had previously tested positive, said it was her third day in a row driving to the testing centre, after she was told the previous day to come back Friday at noon. 

"I still wasn't able to get tested."

A few kilometres away in Vancouver, a similar scene played out. People reported wait times between 30 minutes to two hours.

Two friends drove to the testing site on 33rd Avenue near Cambie Street after being turned away in Burnaby.

"Honestly, it looks like we're in line to go to some festival," one of them said. 

B.C. to ramp up testing

The number of people getting tested is increasing given the recent outbreaks in the Lower Mainland, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said this week. 

Henry said she's not concerned about the volume of tests and that turnaround times — the time a swab is taken till results come back — are being watched carefully.

"We have capacity for testing," she said, noting the average turnaround time right now is about 24 hours in B.C. 

Health officials are planning to ramp up COVID-19 testing in the fall as B.C. braces for a second wave, with a target of 20,000 tests a day.

The current numbers, however, fall far below that. On Thursday, about 3,500 people were tested in the province. Testing has steadily increased since mid-May.

Dr. Srinivas Murthy, an infectious diseases expert at the University of British Columbia, noted lineups at some sites don't necessarily mean all facilities are overwhelmed.

"There may be anecdotes of that, but the reports obviously vary by region," he said.

Motorists waiting in line at a COVID-19 testing facility in Burnaby this week. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Fraser Health said its wait times can vary from 15 minutes to a few hours at its nine assessment and testing centres. About 1,200 people per day visit the sites. 

"We have the ability to increase our testing capacity as required and we are actively exploring where the priority areas are within our region," Dixon Tam, a spokesperson for Fraser Health, said in an email.

Tam said the health authority will share more information once expansion plans are finalized.

A Vancouver Coastal Health spokesperson said Thursday it does not track waiting times and it had not received any complaints about long waits.

For now, the B.C. Centre for Disease Control warns anyone hoping for a test to expect to wait up to three hours.

With files from Jon Hernandez, Tina Lovgreen and Georgie Smyth

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