British Columbia

Frustrated B.C. residents reporting hours-long waits to book COVID-19 test by phone

B.C. may have recently completed a record number of COVID tests, but many residents say they are struggling to book an appointment for a test in the first place.

Delays have been common for residents on Vancouver Island, in Interior and the North

Medical lab technicians test COVID-19 samples at the B.C. Centre for Disease Control lab in Vancouver on May 15. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

B.C. may have completed a record 10,899 COVID tests in a recent 24-hour period, but many residents say they are struggling to book an appointment to get tested in the first place. 

Across the province — but especially in the Northern Health, Interior Health and Vancouver Island Health authority regions — people have expressed frustration with long wait times while trying to book a test. 

Dr. Howard Davidson, a long-time family doctor in Kelowna, B.C., says he's heard several complaints from his patients and staff about trying to book a test. 

"Typically, people are telling me they're waiting one-and-a-half to two hours, but I've definitely heard of a number of cases where people are waiting six-plus hours simply to get through on the phone to book a COVID swab test," Davidson said

Davidson noted that the actual processing of the swabs after the test is taken has been efficient, noting he has usually received results back within 24 hours. 

"So, the problem seems to be actually getting in to get an appointment," he said. 

Davidson said the demand for tests is not surprising given public health guidelines which allow anyone with cold, influenza or COVID-19-like symptoms to get tested.

"It's reasonable for people to get tested ... and they need to have it in a timely, expedient fashion," said Davidson. "This is not an unpredictable problem. We knew that our numbers would surge and we should be prepared for it."

Interior Health says it is looking at bringing in additional supports to address a "surge" in call volume. 

'A huge apology'

Vancouver Island health officials are facing the same issue. Victoria Schmid, vice-president of pandemic planning for Island Health, says she's looking to hire 30 registration clerks to work at the call centre to deal with call volume. 

"On behalf of Island Health, I just want to put out a huge apology to people who have had to wait," Schmid said. 

"The demand for testing is really increasing and so we just don't have enough people yet."

Schmid said server troubles also slowed things down on Monday, as well as a system that can only handle 160 callers at once in its queue. 

She said the health authority is looking at alternative methods to phone appointments — like an online system, or a call-back system. Drop-in and drive-in testing centres, like those in operation in the Lower Mainland, would need extra staffing, she said. 

"I also just want to reiterate to people that you're doing all the right things," she said about people diligently calling in to get tested after showing symptoms.  

"We are doing all the things we need to do around the clock to get that testing lined up as quick as possible," she added.

With files from Daybreak South, On The Island

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