New Brunswick

Parents of symptomatic students frustrated with COVID-19 testing wait times

The province requires students with one symptom to get tested, and with flu and cold season arriving in the coming weeks, there’s expectations attendance will falter throughout the winter.

Students with two symptoms must self-isolate while awaiting results

Parents of students sent home for symptoms of COVID-19 say they're frustrated with the wait times to get a test. Some parents have been forced to stay home from work until their child is cleared to return to school. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press file photo)

New Brunswick parents say they're concerned about wait times for COVID-19 testing keeping them out of work with children home from school for days at a time. 

The province requires students with one symptom to get tested, and with flu and cold season arriving in the coming weeks, there's expectations attendance will falter throughout the winter.

That's a worry at the top of Deborah Green's mind. As a single, working mother, she's already had to take a week off work while her son self-isolates and waits for an appointment and results. 

"If they're going to have that in place, every kid will have at least two symptoms when they get a cold or runny nose — every kid will," she said.

Saint John parent Deborah Green is a single mother and taking a week off work while her son gets tested for COVID-19. (Submitted by Deborah Green)

The Department of Education says in the event of one symptom, parents should fill out the online self-assessment tool, call Tele-Care at 811, or consult their primary care physician to find out if testing is recommended. 

While students with one symptom can continue to attend school — even while awaiting test results — those with multiple must stay at home until getting cleared.

Missing work

Some parents want New Brunswick to explore options for streamlined testing or reconsider the requirements to stay home.

It's a move British Columbia's Ministry of Health moved forward with earlier this week, shortening the list of student screening questions to remove 10 symptoms including sore throat, runny nose, headache and fatigue.

Green's seven-year-old son had a runny nose, headache and a cough — all symptoms of COVID-19. She called 811 and heard back Monday morning after leaving a message.

Public Health called to set up an appointment and said testing would be Thursday morning at the earliest, followed by a wait time for results. 

That forces Green to miss work for a week. Since she recently started her job in the service department at a car dealership, she doesn't qualify for sick days.

"Some parents can't afford to miss that time from work," she said. "So what's going to happen is they're going to send them to school anyway."

Challenges scheduling a test

When Melissa McCarthy's daughter had a fever Friday morning, she kept her home from school and completed the Department of Health's online self-assessment tool. It advised her four-year-old would need to get tested for COVID-19.

But McCarthy missed a call from Public Health to schedule an appointment Saturday evening. Calls back throughout the day went to a voicemail that was full.

"With the difficulty I had trying to get my daughter tested I would not be surprised if most people just give up," she said.

Frustrated by her inability to schedule an appointment, the Fredericton parent drove her daughter to a test site in the city where she persuaded health officials to help. 

For most New Brunswickers, tests results are made available online, while parents of those under the age of 16 receive a phone call.

Mid-Monday — after two missed school days — McCarthy found out the test was negative. 

"The whole process is a whole headache," she said.

'Something has to be done'

New Brunswick Public Health says it's working to reduce wait times.

Spokesperson Bruce Mcfarlane said those efforts include the creation of an online self-assessment form to request a test and improved staffing at assessment centres.

Public Health says parents can continue to go to work if their child is required to stay home while waiting for a test result. 

Fredericton parent Jessica Bleasdale said she completed the province's online assessment tool after her son woke up with a cough. The tool said to self-monitor but she decided to keep him out of school as a precaution.

Fredericton parent Jessica Bleasdale says she received a call 60 hours after requesting a test online. (Jacques Poitras/CBC)

"I kept him home that day and informed the school thinking that by Monday we would have been tested, found out and off he'd go," she said.

Bleasdale said she received a call 60 hours after requesting one online. Since the cough was gone, it was no longer necessary.

"There's a lot of people in our neighbourhood whose kids are sick right now," she said. "They're waiting for tests or they're waiting for callbacks to even get a test scheduled.

"We're two weeks into school. Something has to be done."

CBC News asked all four Anglophone school districts in the province for information on attendance. Two districts did not respond. 

Spokesperson Meredith Caissie said attendance has not been a problem so far in Anglophone North. 

David McTimoney, the superintendent for Anglophone West, said there is a requirement to report to Public Health when attendance rates drop by 10 per cent due to cold and flu related symptoms.  

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alexandre Silberman is a reporter with CBC New Brunswick based in Fredericton. He can be reached at alexandre.silberman@cbc.ca

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