Oakridge COVID-19 assessment centre at capacity before it even opens Friday

Before it even opened Friday, the Oakridge COVID-19 assessment centre had reached capacity in London. 

Fewer staff are available and there was an equipment failure, says executive director

The Oakridge COVID-19 assessement centre had to turn people away Friday morning after it reached capacity when the doors opened at 9 a.m. Some people had lined up before dawn to be tested. (Rebecca Zandbergen/CBC)

Before it even opened Friday, the Oakridge COVID-19 assessment centre had reached capacity in London. 

By 9 a.m., when doors opened, officials said it had reached the daily threshold for the number of tests it could process.

The centre's lead, Mike McMahon, said there are fewer people available today to assist in the centre. He says they are also working to implement new testing guidelines from the province, plus there was an equipment failure at the COVID-19 testing lab at the London Health Sciences Centre.

Officials there say it's now taking more than 24 hours to get test results. Typically the hospital lab processes more than 3,000 tests per day but that has dropped to about 1,500 per day.

McMahon, who is Executive Director for Thames Valley Family Health Team which runs the assessment centres, said the Oakridge site normally does about 500 tests a day but will only complete about half that number Friday. He expects the centre will be back to full capacity on Monday.

Earlier this week line-ups at the Oakridge centre stretched for more than 2 km through the neighbourhood. One Londoner who contacted CBC said there were cars lined up before dawn on Friday.

The centre implemented a new system this week, to help alleviate long wait times. They're handing out appointment cards that give people time frames in which to come back.

It's meant people no longer have to sit in their cars for hours at a time or risk losing their spot in line. 

McMahon said there was less congestion at the Carling Heights assessment centre Friday morning because, like Oakridge, it has begun issuing return times for tests as well.

He said people at both centres are being turned away now if they are asymptomatic. As of Friday, the province said all centres in Ontario will only do tests for those with symptoms, those who have had exposure to an existing case, or have been involved in outbreak investigations.

"For folks that are asymptomatic and were turned away, we hope that we've been able to give them some education about how to monitor for symptoms and/or seek more information from the Middlesex-London Health Unit if they feel their test ought to have been completed."

McMahon said he expects line-ups at both London testing centres to continue for some time, but that people will now spend less time waiting because of the return ticket system.

He said appointment-based testing for certain groups will likely be announced in the coming weeks.

"There are going to be some priority populations that we implement booked appointments for, and some preferred walk-up times for those priority populations."

McMahon said the groups will be clearly identified so that the public understands why they'll be given preferred access.