Nfld. & Labrador

Officials stress patience as wait times rise with testing numbers

With waiting times on the rise, Premier Andrew Furey stressed patience as part of Monday's COVID-19 briefing, while health officials work to lower the wait.

New Mount Pearl testing site up and running

COVID-19 testing sites in Mount Pearl were backed up over the course of the weekend after Newfoundland and Labrador reverted to Alert Level 5 restrictions. (Sherry Vivian/CBC)

Amid a dramatic leap in COVID-19 test appointments, public health officials are stressing patience, noting Monday that health-care workers are swabbing residents at full capacity as more testing sites get up and running.

People reported waiting for several hours at one of the Avalon's major testing sites, Mount Pearl Senior High School, over the weekend, even those who had a scheduled appointment. Lines of vehicles waiting to get into the school's parking lot also spanned over two kilometres at some points.

With waiting times on the rise, Premier Andrew Furey requested stoicism as part of Monday's COVID-19 briefing as health officials work to lower the wait.

"If someone has a test scheduled, they absolutely need to get it done. So please be patient," Furey said.

Health Minister John Haggie said more test sites are in the works to help with the backlog.

The current sites often see longer waiting times depending on the time of day, Haggie said.

"Some of the waits have been longer than we would like," he said. "A lot of that I think comes down to traffic control and the like. We have also seen people turn up without appointments expecting to get in."

Eastern Health CEO David Diamond said the weekend waits were "purely logistical," after some staff needed to work the sites ended up having to self-isolate. Diamond said those problems have been addressed, and a new testing site at the Reid Community Centre in Mount Pearl up and running as of late Monday should ease any backlog.

That new drive-thru site can test up to 2,000 people a day, he said.

People without access to cars can make arrangements to be tested at home or elsewhere, Diamond said, asking anyone in that situation to tell public health or 811 about their needs.

Health Minister John Haggie said the province is working to open more testing sites to lower waiting times. (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador)

Haggie also called the number of testing appointment cancellations "modest" as part of Monday's briefing, as many as 90 to100 people a day at some sites.

"We also have around 90 to 100 no shows," he said. "Those are really disappointing because they are people who've been advised to get tested, should be tested, and that appointment is now no longer available for other people."

The province will also have the capacity to test 7,000 samples a day by the end of next week, according to Haggie.

'I would never turn anyone away for a test': Fitzgerald

The surge in the number of tests and wait times is likely attributed to recent changes made by Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, who recently changed testing criteria to include anyone showing one symptom of COVID-19.

While residents are required to schedule an appointment prior to visiting a testing site, she said the province is ready to test anyone who is concerned they might be carrying the virus.

"I would never turn anyone away for a test, let's just put it that way," Fitzgerald said. "If you are concerned, you can still get a test."

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald said people shouldn't be turned away from sites if they want a test. (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador)

For those with mild symptoms, Fitzgerald said the province's online referral platform can be a valuable tool to determine next steps.

"Sometimes people think their symptoms go away, but they just get a little bit milder," she said.

"So if their symptoms are present at all, they should get tested…. If people have complete resolutions of the symptoms without any further development of more symptoms or different symptoms, then they may not need to be tested."

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