'We're doing what we can' to tackle lengthy COVID-19 test lineups: Manitoba health officials

Manitoba has vowed to address long wait times at COVID-19 testing sites, but additional sites won't open until "the coming weeks," officials said Thursday.

36 new cases of COVID-19 announced in Manitoba on Wednesday, including 28 in Winnipeg

Long line up at Winnipeg’s only drive- thru COVID testing site on 29 Sep 2020. See person wearing security jacket speaking to vehicle occupants and medical personnel on sidewalk behind them, (Lyzaville Sale/CBC)

Manitoba has vowed to address long wait times at COVID-19 testing sites, but additional sites won't open until "the coming weeks," officials said Thursday.

"As far as testing goes, we can look at it from every which way, and it comes out we don't want waits like that. We're doing what we can to address it," said Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba's chief public health officer, at a news briefing Thursday.

"No one's going to say it's acceptable to have these long wait lists."

Manitoba announced 36 new cases of COVID-19 Thursday, including 28 in Winnipeg, four in the Prairie Mountain Health region and two each in the Interlake-Eastern and Southern Health regions.

The new cases come amid reports of hours-long waits for swabs at some testing sites.

"They knew in March what we were in for," said Maria Mannello, who waited six hours in line with a three-year-old at the drive-thru test site on Winnipeg's Main Street earlier this week, despite showing up around 9 a.m.

"A security came up to the car and said … 'The chance of you being seen today is, like, almost nil, so you may want to leave'" she said.

Maria Mannello waited six hours in line with a three-year-old to get tested earlier this week. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

On that day, the site had no washroom facilities, forcing her young daughter to use an emptied sippy-cup to go to the bathroom, Mannello said. The province has since added a porta-potty to the site.

She said people should be able to pre-register for testing, and the province needs to put some basics, like bathroom facilities, at testing sites.

"How many people left that line, because there they just couldn't wait anymore?" she said.

Maria Mannello describes waiting hours in line for a COVID-19 test

3 years ago
Duration 0:50
Maria Mannello describes waiting six hours in the drive-thru testing line with her daughter with no access to a bathroom.

On Thursday, Roussin said nothing is off the table for improving wait times, including expanding and staggering hours at existing sites or opening new ones.

"We're looking all avenues right now to increase access," he said.

The Winnipeg health region has 28 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, bringing the total number of active cases in the region to 534. (Bryce Hoye/CBC)

A new mobile testing site in Winnipeg on Portage Avenue served 75 people on its first day Wednesday, Health Minister Cameron Friesen said.

He promised more mobile testing sites will open in Winnipeg in "the coming weeks," along with sites in Dauphin, Brandon, Portage la Prairie and Winkler.

"We're moving very rapidly to add screening sites, because they're needed," he said.

Challenges in scaling up testing: province

But opening new testing sites is not as simple as it was earlier in the pandemic, when health-care services were massively rolled back to create capacity in the system to handle COVID-19, Friesen said.

"At that time, remember that we were also closing down our normal hospital functions, so we were able to redeploy massive workforce to new things," he said.

That's not the case now, as the province works through a backlog of thousands of elective surgeries that were postponed.

A total of 1,803 tests were completed in Manitoba on Wednesday, bringing the province's total to 186,668 since early February. (Bryce Hoye/CBC)

"Our government has said we are committed to getting back on track and eliminating the wait times [for postponed procedures]," he said. "That means we have a workforce that cannot be redeployed for this."

Friesen said the province is reviewing where it can "borrow" workforce within the health-care system. It's also working with neighbouring provinces to see what techniques have worked elsewhere.

Despite concerns about wait times, Roussin said the province has steadily increased its overall testing capacity.

WATCH | Tackling lengthy COVID-19 test lineups:

Tackling lengthy COVID-19 test lineups

3 years ago
Duration 2:23
Manitoba has vowed to address long wait times at COVID-19 testing sites, but additional sites won't open until "the coming weeks," officials said Thursday.

"We were talking about 300, 400 tests a day," he said. "We're doing over 2,000 tests on some days now, so we have improved that over time."

The average turnaround time for a COVID-19 test is 56 hours, from the moment the swab is taken until the result is processed, Roussin said. The processing time at the lab is still between 24 and 48 hours.

Manitoba's five-day test positivity rate sits at 2.1 per cent on Thursday, up from two per cent on Wednesday. (Bryce Hoye/CBC)

On Wednesday, Manitoba became the fifth province to begin using the federal government's COVID Alert app. The free app uses Bluetooth to alert users if they've been exposed to another user with COVID-19.

"It's all systems go," Friesen said at the Thursday briefing.

Outbreaks at some personal care homes grow

Manitoba now has 621 known active cases of COVID-19, including 534 in Winnipeg. The current five-day COVID-19 test positivity rate is 2.1 per cent as of Thursday, Roussin said.

A total of 19 people at Winnipeg's Parkview Place personal care home — three staff members and 16 residents — have tested positive for COVID-19, Roussin said. One resident has died.

Nineteen people have also now tested positive at Steinbach's Bethesda Place personal care home — 11 staff members and eight residents — following an outbreak that started in mid-August. Four residents have died.

The province is still waiting for details about an outbreak declared at Winnipeg's Calvary Place Personal Care Home on Wednesday, Roussin said. 

Maplewood Manor personal care home in Steinbach has four COVID-19 cases in total, all staff members. Heritage Lodge Long Term Care Home in Winnipeg has recorded eight cases, all among residents.

An outbreak at Winnipeg's John Pritchard School has grown to 35 cases, the province said Thursday, including eight "epi-linked" cases among people not affiliated with the school.

Another case of COVID-19 was identified at Carberry Collegiate in the southwestern town on Sept. 21, the province said. No close contacts have been identified and the infection isn't believed to have been acquired at school.

Another possible exposure in Carberry was posted at the Subway at 200 First Ave., on Sept. 26 from roughly 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Masks mandatory at Manitoba health-care facilities

Starting Oct. 7, non-medical masks will be required in all Manitoba Access centres, community service providers and doctors' offices affiliated with health regions.

"These requirements will remain in place indefinitely, regardless of whether a region is at orange or yellow on the pandemic response system," Roussin said.

There are 15 people in hospital with COVID-19 on Thursday, Roussin said, including seven in intensive care.

Since the pandemic started, Manitoba has identified 2,029 cases of COVID-19 and 1,388 people have recovered. 

There were 1,803 tests completed Wednesday, bringing the province's total to 186,668 since early February.

WATCH | Full news conference on COVID-19 | Oct. 1, 2020:

Manitoba government daily briefing on coronavirus: Oct. 1

3 years ago
Duration 47:55
Provincial officials give update on COVID-19 outbreak: Thursday, October 1, 2020.

With files from Bartley Kives