Hamilton

Up to a 3-day wait for COVID-19 test in Hamilton after surge in demand

Hamilton public health officials are struggling to keep up with the demand for COVID-19 testing after demand tripled in a number of weeks.

Calls to the booking line were 1,000 two weeks ago, and have jumped to 3,000

Hamilton public health officials are struggling to keep up with the demand for COVID-19 testing after demand tripled in a number of weeks. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

Hamilton public health officials are struggling to keep up with the demand for COVID-19 testing after demand tripled in a number of weeks.

Hamilton Public Health Services says visits to testing centres have doubled in recent weeks to about 1,000 people per day. Calls to the booking line were 1,000 two weeks ago, and have jumped to 3,000.

Public health says it is taking between two to three days to book an appointment from the time of the initial call.

"Booking beforehand and not going to lineups is really important,"  Dr. Elizabeth Richardson, Hamilton's medical officer of health, told CBC on Wednesday.

"It's important to continue to organize sites safely and maintain physical distancing and make sure staff can take those precautions ... what's most important is we're able to see the people who are symptomatic."

Dr. Ninh Tran, associate medical officer of health, says the increase in calls have led to a delay in the amount of time it takes to get tested. 

"We all recognize how big of a problem this is and how much it's impacting residents," Tran told city council's general issues committee Wednesday. "There is continuing urgent work to expand testing as fast as possible."

Councillors say they've all been hearing about it. Jason Farr, Ward 2 (downtown) councillor, says he's heard from residents with kids in school. If the kid gets the sniffles, that child's friends and their families have to go into lockdown until they can get tested for COVID-19. Then it takes up to a week to get the results. 

Brad Clark (Ward 9, upper Stoney Creek) says people are losing money because they can't go to work. 

"How do we have patience when this is about self isolation?" he said.

Tran says Public Health Services is working on a way to get the people with the highest needs to the front of the line. Public health is also urging people to book tests ahead of time. Walk-ins aren't guaranteed a test, the city said in a media release.

The city has opened a new testing site at St. Joseph's Healthcare Hamilton's West 5th campus, which is appointment only. It also has testing sites at urgent care centres in the west and east end, and a drive-thru site at the Dave Andreychuk arena on the Mountain. The city plans to close the arena site in the next two months and move all of those operations to the West 5th campus.

The city has opened a new testing site at St. Joseph's Healthcare Hamilton's West 5th campus. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

Richardson said the increased demand for testing is also leading to delays in getting results. She noted the labs are receiving more tests now, which is causing concern. 

"They've done remarkable work across the province to increase testing capacity," she noted.

"It's very much a work in progress as we move forward and I think we're going to have times when it'll be tougher to get it done in a timely way and times when it does get better."

Right now, she said the city is doing OK and the turnaround time for most people is a few days.

83-year-old woman latest victim

The latest COVID-19 victim in Hamilton is an 83 year-old woman. She had a history of international travel and died on Sept. 20 in the hospital.

It's the city's first COVID-19 death since the end of July.

Richardson said it doesn't indicate any particular trend, but the death comes as cases continue to rise locally.

The Devil's Punchbowl has been the busiest site for COVID-19 related complaints. (Nhl4Hamilton/Wikimedia Commons)

"It does speak to the fact we're continuing to have transmission. We've been concerned ... in Hamilton we're up to about eight cases on average a day," she explained.

"Most of what we're seeing in terms of cases is that cluster activity where they're in households or individuals socializing privately."

She said it's vital people continue to maintain social circles/bubbles, keep practicing hand washing and distancing and also re-consider plans as the pandemic continues. 

City investigated 3,000 COVID complaints

Ken Leendertse, the city's head of bylaw enforcement, says bylaw officers have investigated more than 3,000 calls about individuals and businesses not following COVID-19 measures.

The team has monitored 350 city parks, with the busiest being Devil's Punchbowl, Leendertse said. The city has laid more than 70 charges there for not physically distancing, or using the area while it was closed. It's also fielded numerous calls about social gatherings. 

Dr. Elizabeth Richardson, Hamilton's medical officer of health, says daily cases are rising, but Hamilton's newest death doesn't factor into that. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

Leendertse says officers have also accompanied police at community protests.

That means some proactive enforcement hasn't been happening, including building interiors on property standards calls, Leendertse said. There hasn't been much proactive enforcement of rental units either.

"We've just been trying to keep the lights on," he said, but "generally, we are keeping up."

Reconsider your plans during pandemic

Richardson said Hamilton has been full of "little waves" where the number of daily cases has increased and fallen again.

She didn't say we're in a second wave of the virus, but noted it is a "slightly larger wave."

Right now, Hamilton has 73 active COVID-19 cases.

Richardson said residents should remember to plan their day with the COVID-19 pandemic in mind. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

Richardson noted the most prominent group of people getting infected is still those between 20 to 39-year-olds, but people in every category have work to do.

"No matter what the age or how healthy you are, there are people who suffer severe consequences and become quite ill," she explained.

"For everybody out there looking at going out and socializing, think about, 'Is this an event I really need to do right now? Do I really need to go to this? Could we do something virtually? Can we make sure it's outside? How will we ensure physical distancing?' "


How to book an appointment for a COVID-19 test

  • Call the Hamilton Public Health Services COVID hotline at 905-974-9848.
  • The phone lines are open 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Booking lines are receiving more than 2,000 calls each day, so prepare to wait.
  • People can leave voice messages, and someone will call back. Voice messages won't be accepted outside of business hours.
  • The city will take online bookings as of Friday, Sept. 25.

 

About the Author

Samantha Craggs is a CBC News reporter based in Hamilton, Ont. She has a particular interest in politics and social justice stories, and tweets live from Hamilton city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca

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