New Brunswick

Sackville mother slams COVID-19 testing delays, wonders about spread during long waits

A Sackville-area mother who has been waiting for a COVID-19 test for her 10-year-old daughter for five days is questioning how many other people are waiting for an appointment and "spreading around" the virus while they wait.

Sarah MacNeill has waited 5 days for a test for her daughter and wonders how many people are spreading virus

Members of the MacNeill family, of the Sackville area, are isolating while they continue to wait for a COVID-19 test for Layla, 10. (Submitted by Sarah MacNeill)

A Sackville-area mother who has been waiting for a COVID-19 test for her 10-year-old daughter for five days is questioning how many other people are waiting for an appointment and "spreading around" the virus while they wait.

Sarah MacNeill said Layla, a Grade 5 student, has been isolating at home since last Wednesday night when she got sick.

She had seven symptoms of COVID-19 — a fever, cough, sore throat, headache, diarrhea and muscle pains — so MacNeill requested a test on the province's website Thursday afternoon.

The site indicated it could take 24 to 48 hours to get an appointment, but when she didn't hear anything by Saturday night, she decided to call Tele-Care 811.

That's when she was informed the Sackville testing site was closed over the weekend.

"I was in shock and it was just such a frustrating feeling, waiting the whole time and not being told it was closed and that I should have sent her request to Moncton in the first place, I guess," she said.

The 811 operator told MacNeill she could submit a test request for Moncton but advised her it could take another 72 hours and would cancel her existing request for a test in Sackville.

She was also told it could take another four days to get the results.

So MacNeill decided to wait until Monday and continued to try to comfort Layla as best she could with baths and Tylenol.

Over the weekend, she and her husband, Jeff, both started to feel sick with the same symptoms and have also been isolating.

It's giving her a ton of anxiety just waiting day after day after day.​​​​- Sarah MacNeill, mother

On Monday, when MacNeill still didn't hear anything, she called 811 again.

"This time I had an automated message saying, 'If you have waited over 72 hours for a test to go to and submit an inquiry.'"

She said she did that around noon, but as of Tuesday late afternoon, she still hasn't heard back.

"How long am I supposed to wait?"

MacNeill said it's been "extremely damaging" for her daughter's mental health. 

"This is a child, you know? … She says, 'Mom, I'm really scared, like, what if I have COVID?' So it's giving her a ton of anxiety just waiting day after day after day."

And the days feel long waiting for a phone call that doesn't come, she said.

Layla is also missing out on school, noted MacNeill.

"I just think it's a disaster."

Officials request patience

On Monday, CBC News asked Dr. Jennifer Russell, the province's chief medical officer of health, about the Sackville testing site being closed over the weekend and about testing backlogs.

She said she was unaware of sites being closed and that wait times vary. She said she understands that it's "frustrating," but asked people to be patient as officials work to "ramp up" resources to meet the recent surge in demand, particularly in the Moncton region, Zone 1.

"We are doing our best," Russell had said.

MacNeill said it's hard to stay patient, given the stress and inconvenience for her family.

Her husband had taken this week off work anyway because his mother was going to be visiting from Alberta. But she hasn't been able to come and is at a friend's in Nova Scotia instead.

"We haven't seen her in two years," MacNeill said. "So it's just been kind of a depressing and frustrating week."

She felt Russell's response was "like a political answer."

"She didn't have a reason why people aren't being informed that testing sites are being closed and why they're not given other options. I would have easily, in a minute, taken my daughter up to Moncton to get her tested if I knew about that."

MacNeill said she knows of other parents in the Sackville area who have also been waiting for COVID tests for their children for "days."

More than 300 offers to help

The Horizon Health Network is continuing to see a "significant demand" for COVID-19 testing at a number of its assessment centres, said Jean Daigle, vice-president of community.

"Those requesting to be tested may experience longer than normal wait times to have an appointment booked," he said in an emailed statement, without saying how long people are waiting. "Wait times will vary depending on the location.

"We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause and ask for the public's continued patience at this time."

Horizon is working to improve staffing resources at its testing sites and vaccination clinics, said Daigle.

Since Friday, it has received more than 300 expressions of interest from people willing to help, he said.

"We are in the process of onboarding qualified candidates as quickly as possible."

MacNeill said she and her husband are already feeling better and Layla is just congested and tired now.


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