Calgary mom worries COVID-19 testing delays could lead to unnecessary spread
AHS adds 200-300 more appointments daily in Calgary zone as demand for tests rises
As COVID-19 cases surge in Alberta, there are new concerns that testing delays could spark further spread of highly contagious variants of concern.
Juliana Hagans has to wait almost a week to get her eight-year-old daughter tested for COVID-19 despite being deemed a close contact of a case in her Calgary elementary school.
"As a parent, it's very concerning," she said.
Hagans was notified in a letter from Alberta Health Services (AHS) on April 9 that her daughter was a close contact and was exposed in her classroom three days earlier.
The letter states the exposure could be related to a variant of concern. According to Hagans, a second student has since tested positive and the parents of both children were notified that it was, indeed, a variant.
But when she tried to book her daughter for a test through the AHS online booking portal, the earliest appointment was Thursday — nearly a week after the AHS notification and nine days after the potential exposure.
"Are we doing the best we can is my biggest concern and question," she said. "Why is it that we're having to wait until Thursday when this variant of concern is supposedly such a big issue?"
According to Alberta Health guidelines, when someone is deemed a close contact, that person must quarantine for 14 days, but their household members are not required to do so unless there is a positive test result.
Hagans' two other children are still attending school, and she's worried either she or her husband could unknowingly spread the virus while they wait for the test.
"There's just so many people that we come across … and that amount of time is concerning to me because if she is, in fact, positive, then the amount of people that would have been infected [during the wait] would be quite substantial."
Hagans says her daughter recently developed symptoms, including a high fever, and she tried calling Health Link numerous times to move up the appointment, only to be repeatedly cut off due to high call volumes.
And there are other Calgarians reporting similar delays. CBC was contacted by another individual who tried to book a test online Monday after developing a symptom but was unable to get an appointment until Friday. They were also unable to get through on Health Link.
'Time and speed are really critical'
The delays are a concern for Dr. Craig Jenne, associate professor in the department of microbiology, immunology and infectious diseases at the University of Calgary.
According to Jenne, the wait times elevate the risk in the community because there is no requirement for family members to isolate until the close contact (in this case, Hagans' daughter) tests positive.
"Time and speed are really critical," he said. "We are looking at a period of time where people should be isolating because they've been exposed to the variant.… They're out in the community, potentially spreading the virus — and this is probably one of the driving forces as to why we see so many variant cases in Alberta currently."
Jenne says demand for COVID-19 testing is rising because case numbers are growing, and a recent policy change means close contacts are now offered testing twice.
"These delays make it very difficult to get ahead of the viral growth and make it also very difficult to understand exactly where and when this is spreading."
AHS ramps up testing
AHS says it isn't aware of any appointment delays. It says Albertans should receive test results within 24 to 36 hours once testing is completed.
In a statement emailed to CBC News, a spokesperson said there are no known issues with Health Link at this time.
AHS acknowledges the growing demand for testing and says appointments are being ramped up.
"Over the last few weeks, AHS Calgary Zone has been testing approximately 4,500 symptomatic individuals a day across eight testing sites. Demand for testing has been increasing, and even more appointments are being made available this week. Between 200 and 300 appointments are being added each day," the email said.
The number of daily COVID-19 tests in the province peaked at over 23,000 during the height of the second wave in December.
While Alberta has not reached those heights since then, the numbers are climbing, hitting 15,738 daily tests on Wednesday, after a significant drop in February.