British Columbia

Northern B.C. waiting up to 2 weeks for COVID-19 test results

If you're tested for COVID-19 in northern B.C., you might have to wait up to 14 days for the results. The provincial health officer says the distance to testing labs is the biggest challenge.

Provincial health officer confirms long wait times due to distance from testing labs

B.C.'s provincial health officer says the distance to testing labs is slowing the return of COVID test results to northern B.C. (Nova Scotia Health Authority)

If you get swabbed for COVID-19 in northern B.C., you might have to wait two weeks to find out if you're infected or not.

Two health-care workers recently tested both told CBC News they were advised results could take up to 14 days.

Waits up to 14 days 

B.C.'s provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry confirms that test results are taking longer to reach people in northern B.C. than elsewhere in the province. 

"The challenge has been, of course, in the north, the distances that we have to travel to get the test into a laboratory that's able to do this type of testing," Henry told  Daybreak North host Carolina de Ryk Wednesday.

The region's largest health facilities in Prince George are 782 kilometres by road from Vancouver.

Tests sent to distant labs

Northern Health recently opened COVID-19 testing locations in communities across its 600,000 square kilometre service area. 

Northern Health covers a region 600,000 square kilometres in size. (Office of the Auditor General of B.C.)

Henry says efforts are underway to shorten wait-times as soon as possible.

"We've been working on that.... we'll shorten that time ... to get the test to an appropriate lab as quickly as possible," she said.

She says the best solution would be testing with onsite results, but that's not yet available.

"The type of tests ... we have now need to be done in a laboratory with specialized equipment. So that is absolutely a challenge both in the north and in the Interior," said Henry. 

B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says the need to send COVID-19 tests to labs with specialized equipment is delaying the return of results to people in northern B.C. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

BC vows to speed up return of results

As with other parts of the province, only people who've been referred by a health professional are eligible for testing.

And Northern Health, like other B.C. health authorities, gives priority to medical staff or long-term care patients with symptoms, people sick enough to need medical treatment, and people suspected to be part of an outbreak cluster. 

Northern Health officials acknowledge that wait-times for test results can be lengthy but says people at risk enough to need testing should already be in isolation for 14 days.

Between March 13 and 21, 408 people were swabbed for COVID-19 in the Northern Health Region, just a small fraction of the tests done provincewide. 

About the Author

Betsy Trumpener

Reporter-Editor, CBC News

Betsy Trumpener is an award-winning journalist and author. She's been covering the news in central and northern British Columbia for more than 15 years.

Betsy Trumpener

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