Frustration, anger at lack of COVID-19 testing options in Waterloo region

There has been an overwhelming surge in demand for COVID-19 tests in Waterloo region. People were left scrambling for options after the drive-thru testing site managed by Grand River Hospital closed Wednesday morning. CBC Kitchener-Waterloo spoke with some of the people turned away.

Those who don't drive say the site closure was doubly frustrating

Carmen Johnson tried to get a walk-up test for her son but was turned away. (Paula Duhatschek/CBC)

"They should have been prepared for this."

That's what Ronda Werner said Wednesday after she had taken time off work to get a COVID-19 test.

She had arrived at the drive-thru testing clinic in Kitchener two hours early, only to find herself among the people turned away.

"It's really disappointing," she said. "We're in the middle of a pandemic."

She was far from alone. Hundreds of people lined up in the parking lot of the drive-thru testing site, located on Glasgow Street, and on side streets in the area. Police were called to direct traffic in the area and the clinic had reached capacity before it even opened at 7:30 a.m. and had to close for the day.

Many people were left scrambling. Carmen Johnson walked to the site with her son after he failed his before-school COVID-19 assessment. By the time the pair arrived around 9:00 a.m., the site had long since shuttered for the day and security guards were turning people away.

Johnson, who uses a walker and doesn't drive, said she was left not knowing what to do next. The St. Mary's General Hospital testing clinic at 50 Bathurst Drive in Waterloo, which also accepts walk-ins, was located too far away to walk.

"I can't take an Uber or a taxi or anything in case he is positive, that would be putting others at risk," Johnson told CBC News Wednesday. "I actually have no idea right now what we're going to do."

Brad Goodman says there was a lot of traffic and frustrated people at the site Wednesday. (Paula Duhatschek/CBC)

Brad Goodman found himself in a similar situation.

Goodman also doesn't drive and walked to the site, arrived promptly at 7:30 a.m. and was sent home. He said the level of traffic and frustration on Glasgow Street was striking.

"I'm at a loss for words, and I'm a writer, so that's saying something," said Goodman, who works in the film industry and needs a COVID-19 test as a requirement for his job.

Goodman said he had no option but to go home and hopefully get a test within a few days.  

Ronan Byrne said he needed a test for work. (Paula Duhatschek/CBC)

Calling around

Ronan Byrne told CBC News Wednesday morning he planned to wait around at the site, hoping it may open up. As a backup plan, he and his partner called around to testing sites in other parts of the province — from Hanover to Tillsonburg — hoping to find a site with a slot open.

During a global pandemic, Byrne said it was frustrating to see a site shut down for a full day. He said he and his partner each need a negative test before they can return to work.

"We're just trying to find the quickest possible … so we can go back to our jobs," he said.

Ronda Werner showed up at 5:30 a.m. and was still turned away. (Paula Duhatschek/CBC)

Only get a test if needed, officials say

The drive-thru testing site is not the only one dealing with a surge in requests for testing. St. Mary's General Hospital and Cambridge Memorial Hospital have tweeted in recent days about high demand and have asked people to remain patient and to only seek a test if they have symptoms or have been told to get tested.

Sarah Sullivan, operation manager for the Grand River Hospital site, echoed that message and urged people to use good judgment about whether a test is needed. She said the site hoped to reopen Thursday.

The region's acting medical officer of health Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang said on Tuesday during a media briefing that the demand for testing is "outstripping current capacity." The testing centres are doing everything they can to test as many people as possible, Wang said.

Anyone who has symptoms or who has been told to get tested should go to an assessment centre, she said.

"If you are not experiencing symptoms, or you have not been directed to seek testing, please consider not going to an assessment centre at this time," Wang said, noting this is a "temporary request" and no one will be turned away.

The province has announced an expansion of testing into some pharmacies in Ontario, however none of the pharmacies on the initial list are within Waterloo region.

More pharmacy locations will begin to make testing available in the coming weeks, the province said in a release.


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