Nfld. & Labrador

Some people with symptoms comparable to COVID-19 can't get tested in N.L.

Some people in Newfoundland and Labrador are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms but can't get tested.

Province focusing on contact and travelers

Brooke Pynn says the province's 811 public health line told her she didn't meet the requirements for COVID-19 testing. (Peter Cowan/CBC)

As the total number of COVID-19 cases in Newfoundland and Labrador climbs daily, some residents say they are experiencing symptoms similar to COVID-19 but can't get tested.

The province is testing only people who have come into contact with somebody who has tested positive for the virus, or those who are returning to the province from elsewhere.

Brooke Pynn says she left Corner Brook and flew to St. John's in mid-March for a medical appointment. Upon returning to the west coast only a few days later, Pynn said she checked all the boxes for having COVID-19 symptoms.

Pynn said she spoke with 811, the province's public health line, three times before getting to see a doctor. Each call she was told she didn't meet the criteria for testing.

But she finally got an appointment at Western Health's isolation clinic. 

"I saw a doctor there and she was wearing a complete hazmat suit," Pynn told CBC News.

"She evaluated me and she said that she was positive that I had COVID … and that if it wasn't COVID, which she believed it was, then it was influenza."

Pynn also said she visited a Dominion grocery store on Stavanger Drive on March 13. The location closed Thursday afternoon after an employee had tested positive for the virus. The store reopened on Friday morning after being sanitized. The company said the employee's last shift was March 20.

Pynn was told to self-isolate, but was never tested. She said her symptoms got worse Thursday.

Newfoundland and Labrador has two COVID-19 cases related to community transmission, meaning contact tracing cannot connect those cases to another confirmed case. 

"I could have COVID. I might not even have it, but the point is we should be checking," Pynn said.

During the province's daily COVID briefing Friday, Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, Newfoundland and Labrador's chief medical officer of health, said data is being analyzed to decide when to begin testing anyone who may simply be experiencing symptoms of the virus.

"At the moment, the biggest risk factors that we have are anyone who has symptoms who has been a contact of someone with COVID-19, or has travelled. If our analysis of the data shows us something differently then we will change our testing recommendations based on that information," she said.

Pynn said she has been referring to the World Health Organization to get her information on the latest COVID-19 situation. She said, in one article, the WHO encourages all countries to test every suspected case.

Individuals will remain in their vehicles while nurses collect samples at Eastern Health's drive-thru testing centre at St. Teresa’s School in St. John's. (Submitted by Eastern Health)

Scott Mercer of St. John's said he experienced flu-like symptoms for about week, which then turned to symptoms of pneumonia. 

Mercer said he called 811 and described his symptoms to a public health nurse. He told the nurse his job requires him to enter up to five homes per day, which has him worried he might've picked up the virus somewhere during his shift. 

Mercer is also asthmatic, and he said the nurse told him to treat his asthma first. 

"They could have been in Florida, or wherever, and came back, and I could've been in a home … a couple of days afterwards and picked up that virus," Mercer said.

He also tried to visit the COVID-19 testing site at St. Teresa's Elementary School on Mundy Pond Road. Mercer said he was turned away. Testing sites have been by appointment only since the province's regional health authorities implemented them.

"I don't know, and I still won't know because they won't test me," Mercer said about his symptoms. 

On Friday, Health Minister John Haggie said people with influenza symptoms can get tested at their family doctor for the COVID-19 virus. 

However, in a letter dated March 17 to Robert Thompson, executive director of the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association, Fitzgerald wrote, "We are requesting community physicians to arrange a local courier to pick up unused supplies of CTNG swabs/media containers. These should be delivered to the nearest laboratory specimen collection centres, or nearest community health centres or hospital laboratory." 

"From there these supplies will be returned back to regional hospital laboratories to address needs for COVID-19 testing."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Peter Cowan