Saskatchewan

Sask. residents say getting tested for COVID-19 is 'frustrating' ordeal

Many people in Saskatchewan are waiting long hours or getting turned away from COVID-19 testing sites, which have had reduced staff and hours for several months.

Some residents waiting more than 2 hours for a test

The lineup of cars snaked around the block at Saskatoon's drive-thru testing site on Wednesday. (Matt Garand/CBC)

As COVID-19 cases in Saskatchewan climb, several people say they are frustrated with the amount of time it's taking to get tested for the virus. 

The Saskatchewan Health Authority scaled back testing hours and staffing on July 19, days after the province dropped all public COVID-19 restrictions. 

Now, the province has reported the highest ever seven-day average of active COVID cases and leads the nation in case and infection rates.

Saskatoon, one of the province's hotspots, has 968 active cases as of Wednesday — nearly six times the total in Regina.

Saskatoon has only one drive-thru testing site, on Thatcher Avenue, and it is only open from noon to 7:30 p.m. CST on weekdays and 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. CST on weekends. Cars snake around the block, waiting for hours in hopes of getting a test.

Besides drive-thru sites, Saskatchewan residents can get a COVID test by receiving a referral from HealthLine 811, through certain health-care providers or by paying private companies such as Haztech, which charges $195 for a PCR test or $250 to receive results quicker.

Lengthy wait, no test

Janice Braden waited in the Saskatoon drive-thru line for 2½ hours Tuesday afternoon after she started experiencing a cough, fever and loss of taste.

She was turned away at the end, unable to get tested as the site reached max capacity. 

"It's frustrating. You expect that health care is going to be there when you need it," Braden said.

Another Saskatoon resident, Jill Nelson, had been in her car at the drive-thru for two hours on Wednesday afternoon when she spoke to CBC News.

"[I] feel very hot and tired," said Nelson, who was still at the back of the line.

Meanwhile, it took Steven Penner more than three hours to reach the front.

"There's a lot of people that feel sick right now," he said.

Braden says more needs to be done to tackle testing capacity and COVID-19 in the province.

"I think it's beyond time that the government starts taking this seriously. We're not in the same situation that we were in July," said Braden.

"There's a lot of responsibility that lays clearly on the shoulders of the premier, the health minister and they don't seem to be taking it seriously."

SHA responds

In an emailed statement to CBC News, the Saskatchewan Health Authority wrote that its goal is to get people in and out of the testing clinic in 90 minutes, with a 48-hour turnaround to receive test results.

The SHA added that while testing is an option for those who haven't been vaccinated or who are not eligible, it encourages people to get vaccinated.

"Vaccination is still the best defence against the virus for you, your family and our province," the SHA statement reads. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Yasmine Ghania is a reporter with CBC News, currently based in Saskatoon.

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