As demand surges, Quebec testing sites plagued by wait times of up to five hours

Health Minister Christian Dubé says the wait times are unacceptable. But what is being done to improve the situation?

Health authorities scramble to increase capacity as health minister says long waits 'not acceptable'

Hundreds of cars lined up in front of tents at the Jean-Béliveau arena in Longueuil on Thursday as people waited to get tested at the drive-through clinic. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

Julie Fabi was in the middle of her shift at a COVID-19 screening centre in Châteauguay when she left to retrieve her 12-year-old from home.

She said her son had been showing symptoms, and though there aren't any cases at his school, she thought it best to get him tested.

"He has a runny nose, congestion, a headache and fatigue," Fabi said.

Fabi's son was among hundreds who got tested on Thursday in Châteauguay on Montreal's South Shore, joining thousands more across the province as Quebec aims to screen 25,000 a day.

But with that many people showing up, long lines have been forming — sometimes five hours long — in the regions seeing an uptick in COVID-19 cases.

Julie Fabi left work to get her son, 12-year-old Étienne Fabi-Lemelin, and bring him in for a test on Montreal's South Shore on Thursday. (Sudha Krishnan/CBC)

Jade St-Jean, speaking for the Montérégie-Ouest health authority, told CBC News that staff are adjusting to the sudden increase in people seeking tests.

"We gave out tickets so people wouldn't have to wait in line," she said.

Those tickets, or coupons, act as a time-slot reservation to get tested later.

It was the same story at a drive-through testing clinic in Longueuil, only people are waiting for hours in their cars rather than along a sidewalk.

Some were turned away from the Longueuil site Wednesday and returned Thursday. 

The drive-through clinic, set up in an arena's parking lot off Jacques-Cartier Boulevard, opened at 10 a.m, but hundreds of cars were lined up by 8 a.m.

In many cars, families came together to get tested, meaning three or four occupants had to be screened.

More than 550 people were tested on Wednesday, maxing out the site's capacity.

"We are planning to increase our capacity next week," said Mélanie Malenfant, spokesperson for the CISSS de la Montérégie-Est.

People turn out in droves to be tested

With eight regions designated "yellow" under Quebec's new colour-coded COVID-19 alert system, the government has been pushing people to get tested if they have symptoms or have been in contact with an infected person. 

Authorities have stressed, however, that those without symptoms, who haven't had contact with a positive case, should not get tested. 

Quebec Premier François Legault told reporters on Thursday that health authorities are doing all they can to deal with the increased demand.

"Per million inhabitants, we are the province that does the most," he said.

"The challenge we have had in recent weeks is that it is no longer only in Montreal, it is also in Outaouais, in the Lower Saint-Lawrence and a lot in Quebec City."

It is impossible to expect a region will be at full testing capacity overnight after an outbreak is detected.

"Honestly, having 25,000 tests now is a success," Legault said.

Health Minister Christian Dubé said on Thursday that it is 'not acceptable' for people to wait up to five hours for a COVID-19 test. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

'Not acceptable,' health minister says

Health Minister Christian Dubé said Thursday he had been speaking with the heads of local health authorities throughout the day.

He is pushing for improved communication among staff, consistent service between regions and the use of private labs.

"I don't like this quality of service," he said. "I don't like it. I don't like it."

Dubé said he would like to hire more workers to increase testing, but regional health authorities are short on medical staff and other essential services risk being compromised if too many resources are devoted to testing.

Until then, the health minister was clearly frustrated with the current state of testing in the province.

"It is not acceptable to still have queues of four or five hours," he said.

For those in Montreal looking to get tested, all the information you need can be found on Montreal public health's website

For those outside of the Montreal region, check with your local health authority or call  1‑877‑644‑4545 for guidance.

With files from Sudha Krishnan

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