Long wait for tests as Brandon residents troubled by COVID-19 resurgence

​A southwestern Manitoba city that seemed peculiarly immune to COVID-19 for weeks rushed Tuesday to test a rash of people who have shown symptoms of the illness.

Health officials scrambled to open 2nd testing site in southwestern Manitoba city ahead of schedule

Vehicles line up for blocks in downtown Brandon on Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2020, as people wait to take a COVID-19 test. (Ian Froese/CBC)

​A southwestern Manitoba city that seemed peculiarly immune to COVID-19 for weeks rushed Tuesday to test a rash of people who have shown symptoms of the illness.

Health officials opened an extra testing location on Tuesday, a day ahead of schedule, to ease lengthy waits at what was Brandon's only testing site.

Earlier in the day, vehicles were stretched for at least six blocks outside the original testing site in downtown Brandon, with many people waiting for hours to get a test.

"I wouldn't be here if I was doing fine," said one woman, when asked how she was doing.

The city of nearly 50,000 is grappling with heightened demand for COVID-19 testing after Brandon became the coronavirus's new epicentre in Manitoba. At least 64 COVID-19 cases are linked to a cluster of cases in the city.

Brandon had gone roughly 70 days without a case of COVID-19, until that streak ended in mid-July, the city's mayor said Monday.

'Heightened anxiety'

In large part due to the Brandon cluster, Manitoba reached its highest number of active cases since the start of the pandemic — 196 — on Monday.

In Brandon, residents are being reminded of the importance of physical distancing and handwashing.

"I think there's a lot of heightened anxiety," said Glenda Short, vice-president of community programs for the Prairie Mountain Health authority.

"People may have become a little bit lax in taking the precautions."

A health-care professional speaks with an individual arriving at the COVID-19 testing site at the Town Centre in Brandon. (Ian Froese/CBC)

On Monday, Brandon's testing site peaked at 413 tests. A few weeks ago, the site averaged fewer than 200 visits a day, Short said.

Prairie Mountain Health responded to the demand by establishing the new site Tuesday at the Keystone Centre parking lot. The authority also extended hours at the first testing location, including on Sunday.

The recent rash of cases serve as "somewhat of a reminder … [that] the virus is still with us, and we have to learn how to live with the virus," Short said.

A few hundred feet away from the new site, four retired men were having their morning coffee in the Keystone Centre parking lot. They were robbed of their usual setting at the local A&W, which closed its dine-in seating in response to the jump in COVID-19 cases.

"We decided to get lawn chairs, go out here and have coffee," Dave Poets said.

On the bright side, he said, "nobody's coming in and telling us our hour's up."

WATCH | Unease in Brandon as COVID cases surge

Unease in Brandon as COVID cases surge

3 years ago
Duration 2:41
Health officials on Tuesday afternoon relieved a lengthy wait at Brandon's only testing site for the novel coronavirus by opening an extra site one day ahead of schedule.

The pandemic's increasing severity in their hometown was a topic of discussion among the friends.

"I think it's making everybody wear masks again, at least," Poets said, noting the prevalence of face coverings at his grocery store. 

"We're all pretty worried about COVID," added Doug Lund. "It's terrible."

Some friends, including Garth Towler, centre, and Doug Lund, right, have their usual morning coffee outside. The retirees are regular guests at A&W, but the restaurant decided to close its dine-in service after Brandon experienced a rash of new COVID-19 cases. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

Sherry Spring, meanwhile, said she's keeping her visits to the grocery stores to a minimum. 

"I'm in a high-risk group. Two of my best friends are in a high-risk group, so I'm trying to keep both of them and myself out of the way as much as possible, going shopping only when absolutely necessary."

She's also worried that the Maple Leaf Foods pork-processing plant, which has seen 22 of its employees test positive for COVID-19, is still operating. The union representing the workers has called for the plant's temporary closure, but health officials say a suspension isn't necessary since no employee contracted the virus at work.

The apprehension among residents may be responsible for declining foot traffic at some local businesses.

Dine-in and catering sales dropped at Komfort Kitchen, a popular breakfast and lunch spot in the city's downtown.

"Things were looking good [but] now that there is an increased number of reported cases, just this past Monday I noticed a significant decrease in business," said owner Derek Woychyshyn.

He said his employees are concerned the province may reintroduce earlier restrictions to get a handle on rising case numbers in Brandon. If so, his restaurant may shut their doors again.

"They're worried that if they have to close, their financial situation will go down the hill again."


Ian Froese

Provincial Affairs Reporter

Ian Froese covers provincial politics and its impact for CBC Manitoba. You can reach him at