With days-long waits for results, some Winnipeg parents question value of getting COVID-19 tests
Median wait time for test results should be 24 hours, epidemiologist says
A Winnipeg mother says the long waits involved in getting a COVID-19 test — first in line at the testing site and then for the results — make her question whether she would bother taking her son to get tested again.
Siobhan Loeza Aceves's son Tristan, 12, was sent home from school on Tuesday, Oct. 6, after he started showing COVID-19 symptoms. After waiting on hold with Health Links for five hours, she was told to go to the testing site at Thunderbird House on Main Street.
Tristan has autism, which made the nearly two-hour wait hard to bear, Loeza Aceves said.
After getting the test on Oct. 7, Loeza Aceves said she still didn't have her son's test results by Oct. 10. She waited on hold with Health Links for three hours before being told it could take anywhere from three to seven days to get the results.
The negative results had appeared online by the next morning — but because it was the Thanksgiving long weekend, Tristan wouldn't get back into school until Tuesday, a full week after he was sent home.
Loeza Aceves says in the future, she would probably skip the test and just keep her son home for the 10 days after the appearance of symptoms that public health officials advise.
"To be honest, as the mom of a child with a disability, where it was very, very hard for him to line up … I don't know if I would put him through that again," she said.
She suspected her son's symptoms were allergy-related, but got him tested in hopes of getting him back to school sooner.
"But really, it [only] got him back to school a couple of days [earlier] than he would, unless he had waited the 10 days."
Progress made, but not enough
For weeks, the provincial government has been working to address backlogs in the testing system. Despite vastly expanding the lab capacity for performing tests over the summer to around 3,000 tests per day, Manitobans were still complaining earlier this month of days-long delays getting their results.
Since then, some progress appears to have been made. On Thursday, Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin said the median wait time for tests results was 41 hours.
That might still not be good enough, according to one epidemiologist.
"It's quite unfortunate that we are actually talking about wait times to get tested, and then having given the sample, waiting to get results multiple days … at this point in the pandemic," said Dr. Nazeem Muhajarine, a professor in the department of community health and epidemiology in the college of medicine at the University of Saskatchewan.
Studies have shown that getting results back to people within 48 hours is critical to breaking transmission chains, according to Muhajarine. The longer it takes to get results back to people, the more opportunity the virus has to spread.
"I would think the median [wait] should be actually at 24 hours," he said.
"It's unfortunate, because in a country like ours we should have come up with a system and a capacity to do testing efficiently, rapidly and get the results out to people."
Self-isolation, with or without test
Aceves isn't the only parent questioning whether getting her child tested is worth it.
Karen Ouellette took her daughter, who is in Grade 9, to get tested on Oct. 7, the same day as Aceves.
Ouellette and her daughter walked 10 blocks to the site on Pembina Highway, because they don't have access to a vehicle, and waited 2 ½ hours to get a test.
She got the negative results on Oct. 10, a Saturday, but her daughter's symptoms persisted and she wasn't able to go back to school until the following Wednesday.
"When you think about it, either way you have to do the self-isolation," Ouellette said. "What's the sense in doing all those other things only to have to self-isolate in the end anyways?"
Although she knows that a positive test result would help public health officials with contact tracing, Ouellette says there isn't much value to her in knowing whether symptoms are due to COVID-19 unless they become severe.
"Maybe I'm naive and ignorant on how the process actually goes, but I don't think they really provide you with much assistance, outside of keeping others safe from you," she said.
But Muhajarine says it is still important to get tested, because asymptomatic people who are sick could still pass the virus on to others.
"I think individual people making individual decisions to quarantine is probably not the best way to go."