Confusion, frustration as walk-in COVID-19 tests continue despite province's vow

Walk-in COVID-19 tests were supposed to have ended provincewide this weekend, as Ontario makes the move to an online booking model. But on Sunday, people could still get one at the Brewer Arena assessment centre.

Tests available in Ottawa even as Ontario said they would wrap up Saturday

Gone were the long lineups at the Brewer Arena test site Sunday — but even doctors were confused about why walk-in COVID-19 tests were being allowed when the Ontario government had said they'd end Saturday. (Radio-Canada)

There was confusion among both doctors and the public Sunday as walk-in COVID-19 tests were supposed to have ended provincewide but were still available at one Ottawa test site. 

On Friday, the Ontario government announced it was transitioning to an online booking system on Tuesday, and walk-ins would be discontinued Saturday so assessment centres could "reset, deep clean and ensure preparedness" before the new model came into effect.

But on Sunday, some people in Ottawa were still able to get tests without a previously scheduled appointment.

"I was a bit confused when I went online. I did try to make an appointment and it wasn't working so I drove over and it was really quick," said Joanne Proulx, who was tested Sunday at the Brewer Arena site.

Joanne Proulx said she didn't have to wait long to get a walk-in test for COVID-19 Sunday at the Brewer Arena assessment centre. (Reno Patry/Radio-Canada)

Proulx said she was in and out within 40 minutes, a far cry from the hours-long wait-times some Ottawans have endured in recent weeks.

Her family was turned away, she said, because they weren't considered high priority.

CBC Ottawa contacted Ottawa Public Health, The Ottawa Hospital, CHEO — the children's hospital serving eastern Ontario — and the Ontario Ministry of Health on the weekend about what the province's guidelines meant for those who needed a COVID-19 test Sunday and Monday, and what types of tests would be available.

The Ottawa Hospital directed questions about its Brewer Arena assessment centre to the ministry, which did not respond to requests for comment.

In a statement, CHEO said its own assessment centre at Brewer remained open Sunday because it has an online booking system. Ottawa Public Health said Sunday morning the existing guidelines around the Brewer Arena site remained in effect, including at the walk-in centre.

On Sunday evening, the Ottawa COVID-19 Testing Taskforce — a group that involves members of those various agencies and coordinates COVID-19 testing efforts across the city — announced the hospital's Brewer site would in fact be closed Monday, as would the care clinics on Moodie Drive and Heron Road.

CHEO's site would stay open Monday, as would the drive-thru site at RCGT Park. Both would be by appointment only, the task force said.

Dr. Nilli Kaplan-Myrth says changing guidelines on who should get tested, how, and how long it may take to get a test are problematic and may decrease people's sense of urgency or seriousness about the illness. (Submitted by Nili Kaplan-Myrth)

'Everybody is confused'

The unclear messaging from the province and local health officials is sowing confusion and frustration, said Dr. Nili Kaplan-Myrth, a family physician in Ottawa.

"People don't know where to go. They don't know what to do, and so my patients are confused," she said. "I think everybody is confused, and physicians are confused because the advice is so conflicting."

Kaplan-Myrth she had symptomatic patients late last week who should have been told a walk-in test was still possible on the weekend.

While it's inappropriate for sick people to wait hours in lines, Kaplan-Myrth said she's concerned that those lineups will still exist when the booking system goes online — and people just won't notice them.  

"Public pressure came from seeing those lineups," she said.

"So when my patients say to me, 'Dr. Kaplan-Myrth, I can't get an appointment to be tested,' there's no public eye on that … we've taken away the physical evidence of those long lines and made it a race to see who can get an appointment booked online."

With files from Radio-Canada's Nafi Alibert

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