Edmonton

Demand for private COVID-19 testing driven by travellers, business

Everyday Ichor Blood Services in Calgary receives a non-stop flood of emails and phone calls looking for COVID-19 testing, not only for travel but also with an eye toward family gatherings. 

'You have the volume of a nation essentially descending upon you. It's been crazy'

Travellers and corporate clients keep Ichor Blood Services busy with COVID-19 tests. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Ichor Blood Services in Calgary receives a flood of emails and phone calls every day looking for COVID-19 testing. 

"We do a lot of work for companies," said CEO Mike Kuzmikas, using remote camp work as an example. "We go to the private airport hangar and we test people before they fly out to site. So they get the results within 48 hours and then they can go work their three-week shift."

A few months ago, some countries began demanding visitors provide a negative COVID-19 test result in order to enter. 

China, Bermuda and Barbados all require a negative test. Hawaii also recently announced that travellers there can circumvent a 14-day quarantine with a negative test taken within 72 hours of take-off.

Kuzmikas told CBC Radio's Edmonton AM he can't hire testers fast enough to keep up with demand.

"As soon as you put three people in there and open up the calendars, it's booked and then you're looking for how can I grab more space?" 

It's been so busy, Ichor put out a news release this week searching for a partner to help. 

"So part of what we're trying to do is find national partnerships with companies that have that national clinical presence where they know these clinics might be sitting at zero capacity," Kuzmikas said.

Dynalife Medical Labs is also offering asymptomatic testing for travelers, but unlike Ichor they require proof of a booked flight in order to get the testing done. Right now, Dynalife is processing 300 outbound travel tests per day, at a cost of $150 each.

Ichor charges $250 plus tax for the live virus test and $150  plus tax for a serology antibody test and will soon have a capacity of 280 to 350 per day out of their offices in Edmonton, Calgary, Medicine Hat and Red Deer. 

The tests are then sent to their partner StageZero Life Sciences' lab in Virginia for processing.

While the test results are expected in 24 to 48 hours, travelers should make sure they are prepared in case something happens to their test, whether that means buying cancellation insurance, being ready for a two-week quarantine, or just staying home. 

Christmas COVID-19 tests

Ichor is focused on providing tests for travel and corporate clients, but they are seeing a demand for testing from people with no plans to go anywhere, Kuzmikas said.

Before restrictions were announced this week, Ichor was even getting the odd request from people who just wanted to be confident they don't have COVID-19 before visiting parents or going to hockey camp.

Could private testing open the doors for larger Christmas celebrations? Timothy Caulfield cautions against it. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

They even fielded a request from someone wanting 10 people tested ahead of a Thanksgiving dinner, with a note that they'd like it for Christmas too.

While that may seem like a good idea, University of Alberta health law professor Tim Caulfield said people should be cautious with that approach.

"I think it's safe to really err on the side of small groups, your own personal COVID bubble. And be very careful about about including more."

Caufield said given the spike in cases "this idea of having some kind of quarantine, and then once everyone's passed that quarantine getting together, that's strategically an approach that might work. But I don't think 72 hours is long enough, unfortunately."

While Ichor doesn't discriminate who it tests, it is trying to stay focused on travellers.

"We're turning away quite a bit, actually," Kuzmikas said of people coming to them for general testing.

"We're this small company who's offering a service that seemingly isn't really out there anywhere. And so you have the volume of a nation essentially descending upon you. It's been crazy."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kory Siegers

Network producer

Kory Siegers is a network producer with CBC News, based in Edmonton, Alta. She previously worked as a producer for CBC Edmonton and as an assignment editor for Global Edmonton. She has spent more than two decades covering news across Alberta. Email story tips to kory.siegers@cbc.ca.

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