COVID-19 tests should be done more widely, says Montreal area woman showing symptoms

A woman on Montreal's North Shore developed symptoms similar to COVID-19 and has been in contact with someone who travelled to Hong Kong. But that's not enough to get tested for the virus.

Quebec testing those who have travelled to at-risk countries or have come in contact with confirmed cases

COVID-19 testing kits sit stacked at a screening clinic in Montreal. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

It started with the usual symptoms: body aches, a fever. Kimberly, who lives on Montreal's North Shore, assumed she was coming down with the flu and didn't think much of it.

Then it got worse. The body aches became increasingly extreme. She was overtaken by coughing fits. She developed a fever and began struggling to breathe.

She hadn't travelled to an at-risk country, but Kimberly started to consider if she had COVID-19. She'd been in contact with a friend who recently come back from Hong Kong, which is under a travel advisory.

Kimberly called Quebec's Info-Santé 811 hotline and described her symptoms. They advised her to go see a doctor.

"So I did," Kimberly told CBC Montreal's Daybreak. "I also described the same symptoms to the doctor and asked if I would be tested for COVID-19. She said no."

CBC News has agreed not to use Kimberly's full name, because members of her family are not in self-isolation.

She said she's frustrated that the Quebec government refused to test her, despite showing all the symptoms of COVID-19.

Doesn't meet criteria for testing

Kimberly was told she wouldn't get tested because she hadn't travelled anywhere herself, and because the person she was in contact with wasn't a confirmed case.

The doctor diagnosed her with pneumonia in her right lung and sent her home.

Patients with COVID-19 can develop more serious symptoms such as difficulty breathing and pneumonia.

Meanwhile, Kimberly's son — who is immunocompromised — her husband and her stepfather are all starting to show the same symptoms. Frustrated, Kimberly called 811 back.

"Again, I was told no, I would not be considered for testing. I asked why — is it because I was diagnosed with pneumonia? ...  She said 'yes, you have pneumonia, you'll be fine in a few days.'"

Kimberly accused the current criteria of being "narrow-minded," pointing to other jurisdictions where the testing is more proactive.

In Ontario, someone doesn't need to have travelled to get tested, as long as they have symptoms and their doctor considers them at risk.

"I would really like to see them testing more people that have symptoms that are matching up with what they're looking for," she said.

Quebec's Health Ministry told CBC News that Kimberly's risk of having contracted COVID-19 is low. The ministry said that it is more likely that she has another respiratory virus, such as the flu, that would cause the same symptoms.

In the meantime, Kimberly said she's staying at home. She still doesn't know if she has COVID-19.

An employee at the COVID-19 screening clinic at the old Hôtel-Dieu Hospital illustrates how to put on protective equipment. In a real-life scenario, they would wear an N95 mask. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

No known community transmission in Quebec

"If she actually had [COVID-19] and we missed it then yes, that is going to pose some difficulty," said Dr. Matthew Oughton, an infectious disease specialist at the Jewish General Hospital.

He said part of the challenge is there's been no known community transmission in Quebec yet and they don't want to overwhelm the province's ability to test people.

Currently, there is only one centre in the province that can look at the test and confirm a case of COVID-19.

So if someone hasn't travelled outside of Quebec, or come into potential contact with a confirmed case — such as being on the Metro at the same time as an infected patient — they won't be tested, he said.

Currently, government guidelines instruct clinics to "end the triage" if someone doesn't meet one of those two conditions.

"There are other diseases out there that can present in virtually the exact same way," Oughton said, pointing to influenza, which is also circulating this time of year. Statistically, it's more likely for one of those diseases to be the cause, he said.

But Oughton acknowledged that those criteria could rapidly change depending on the situation on the ground.

"Is it possible that … two weeks from now we'll do more widespread testing? It's certainly possible."

With files from CBC Montreal's Daybreak