Kitchener-Waterloo

Kitchener drive-thru COVID-19 testing clinic hit capacity before it opened on Wednesday

Grand River Hospital, which runs the drive-thru COVID-19 testing clinic, tweeted Wednesday morning the clinic had reached capacity before it opened at 7:30 a.m. Reports on social media showed people lining up as early as 5 a.m. to get in line for a test.

'We will be asking those who arrive to leave,' Grand River Hospital tweeted

Hundreds of people were lined up for the Kitchener drive-thru early Wednesday morning. These cars wait on Glasgow Street. Grand River Hospital, which runs the drive-thru centre, announced before the drive-thru was set to open on Wednesday that it had reached capacity. (Paula Duhatschek/CBC)

The drive-thru COVID-19 testing centre in Kitchener had reached capacity before it was set to open for testing Wednesday morning. 

Sarah Sullivan, the site's operations manager, said people began lining up around 3:00 a.m. and soon began lining up in the parking lot and on the street. 

"There was an extreme amount of cars overflowing in the parking lot, pedestrians as well, overflowing onto the main streets surrounding the area [and] completely blocking traffic at main intersections this morning," said Sullivan, who said the site had to call police to help manage traffic. 

"Many people were very upset and just in order to manage the behaviour, we had to close down." 

Grand River Hospital, which runs the drive-thru centre, tweeted at about 7:15 a.m. that the centre had reached capacity. The drive-thru opens at 7:30 a.m.

About 100 people were able to get in for testing before security had to begin turning people away, Sullivan said.

The site will be closed all day Wednesday while staff work on a plan to deal with high volume in the mornings, she said. 

"Once we get a handle on the morning volume we should be able to resume operations," said Sullivan, who said the site hopes to reopen Thursday morning.

Sarah Sullivan is with the drive-through testing site and says it has been dealing with a "morning surge" in demand for testing. (Paula Duhatschek/CBC)

Turned away

In tweets on Tuesday, the hospital said it understood people were frustrated by being turned away for testing.

"Due to the extremely high volumes we are seeing at our drive-thru testing clinic, we are reaching capacity throughout the day and need to turn individuals away," the hospital said.

The centre is located in the parking lot of Catalyst 137 on Glasgow Street. The roads near Glasgow Street and Belmont Avenue were blocked with people trying to get into the drive-thru centre. 

Waterloo regional police warned about the high number of vehicles in the area and asked people to avoid the area.

The traffic "compounded by increasing aggression that our staff was experiencing in the form of verbal abuse and threats of violence" led to the closure, a hospital official said.

Last week, the hospital said the drive-thru was being closed several times during the day as it reached capacity.

"It does happen and there's not much we can do about it once our overflow parking is full, we have to turn people away," hospital spokesperson Cheryl Evans said at the time.

She said they have to turn people away to maintain access to the site for staff and also to keep people safe.

The drive-thru site was built to handle 350 vehicles a day. The staff at the site have averaged 550 tests each day in recent weeks.

People need 'informed decisions' about testing

Sullivan said there needs to be better public education about when testing is appropriate, and that people should make "informed decisions" about whether they need one.

She apologized to those who were turned away and said further updates about the site will be posted on the hospital's website and social media. 

"We did not anticipate we would have to close this morning, but we appreciate your patience and look forward to seeing you in the near future," she said. 

On Tuesday during a media briefing, the region's acting medical officer of health Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang asked people who aren't exhibiting symptoms and who haven't been directed to get a test to avoid being tested for now.

"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.

Security at the drive-thru COVID-19 testing centre put up signs to indicate the site was closed early Wednesday morning. Grand River Hospital, which operates the testing centre, tweeted at 7:15 a.m. that the drive-thru had reached capacity. That was 15 minutes before it was scheduled to open. (Paula Duhatschek/CBC)

About the Author

Paula Duhatschek

Reporter/Editor

Paula Duhatschek is a reporter with CBC Kitchener-Waterloo. You can reach her at paula.duhatschek@cbc.ca.

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