Saskatoon woman with COVID-19-like symptoms says it took 5 days to get tested after referral

A Saskatoon woman who thinks she has COVID-19 says she waited five days to get tested after being told she would receive a call to arrange an appointment.

'It’s absolutely appalling the wait was that long,' says Tobi-Dawne Smith

Tobi-Dawne Smith believes she has COVID-19 but says she had to wait five days to get tested in Saskatoon. (Submitted by Tobi-Dawne Smith)

A Saskatoon woman who has COVID-19-like symptoms says she waited five days to get tested after being told she would receive a call to arrange an appointment. 

Tobi-Dawne Smith is one of two Saskatoon residents who say they experienced difficulties getting tested when they were experiencing symptoms of COVID-19.

"It's absolutely appalling the wait was that long. There's absolutely no way the province can have actual accurate numbers if the testing is not being done in a reasonable amount of time," said Smith. 

Saskatchewan Health Authority CEO Scott Livingstone said Friday he is not aware of any delays getting access to testing in Saskatoon. 

"We certainly will follow up with the team and find out because we will be able to find out if there were delays," said Livingstone.  

"If something has happened that's untoward with respect to our processes we will fix them but I haven't heard that at all." 

'People need to know'

Smith said she started experiencing shortness of breath on April 29. Initially she said she did not seek medical help to avoid putting further strain on the health system, but by May 3 her symptoms had worsened to include intense sweats, exhaustion and light-headedness. She was unable to catch her breath even when sitting still. 

Smith said she called 811, the provincial health line which now also takes calls from people who think they might have COVID-19, and spoke to a nurse. 

"She felt that I should be going into emergency but I know my body and I knew I was OK to be treated at home, and I just wanted the test," said Smith, speaking with laboured breath between bouts of coughing on Friday. 

Tobi-Dawne Smith says she feels a responsibility to get tested not only so she can decide how to respond to her illness, but for the public record in case she does have COVID-19. (Submitted by Tobi-Dawne Smith)

She said one nurse told her she had been referred for testing and she would be contacted that night or the next day to arrange a time, but she did not receive the call.

Smith said she felt a personal and social responsibility to find out if she had COVID-19. 

"On the personal side, if it is COVID-19, I know there's not a ton that can be done, I need to just wait it out and be patient, but if it's not I need to know what it is so I can make informed choices for my health," she said. 

"On a social responsibility side, people need to know if there are cases showing up where they live so they can again make informed choices for their health and the health of their family and community."  

She said her symptoms worsened again from May 4 to 6, as she began to experience chills, occasional chest pains, dizziness and nausea. 

On May 6 she called 811 again to make sure her referral for a test had not been lost, she said, and was told by two nurses to either wait or call 911. 

Smith said she did not call 911 because she felt she was OK to be treated at home but decided to call the next day — on Thursday — to see if emergency services had the resources to help her. She said she was told they did not. 

Smith also contacted her family doctor who again referred her for testing. On the afternoon of Thursday, May 7, she received a call saying she was booked to go in for a test at 2 p.m. CST Friday. 

"It's absolutely atrocious … it's unconscionable to ask people to wait this long when you are dealing with a pandemic." 

Smith's experience has made her doubtful about the province's assurances that there are very few cases of COVID-19 outside of outbreaks in northern Saskatchewan. 

She said she is 85 to 90 per cent confident she has COVID-19, adding that it is different than any flu, cold or allergies she has had before. 

Smith said she has maintained physical distancing while being around family members outside her household but said her husband is an essential services worker. She believes it is possible he brought the infection home from work. 

"I'm not living in a vacuum and my experience is not going to be isolated just to myself. If this is happening to me I know it's happening to other people and that's not OK," she said. 

Smith said she is at a higher-risk of having complications because she has asthma. 

"There is definitely a fear there," she said. 

"I try not to pay it too much mind because I tend to be an optimistic person by nature — a cautiously optimistic person by nature."

Saskatoon man says SHA never called back 

Kody Merasty of Saskatoon said he called 811 on April 21 when his throat became so swollen he said he could barely breathe.

He was told to go to a section of a Saskatoon hospital. 

"They took my vitals and my phone number and told me that they would call me with a time and a place to go get testing and that call never came," said Merasty.

He said he stayed home and started to feel better about a week later. He now feels he did not have COVID-19, but thinks he should have been tested. 

"I just wanted to figure out what was going on and plus most of the symptoms that were showing were symptoms of COVID-19," he said.

"I just think it's weird they never called. I think if someone had it they would want to get it dealt with right away so it doesn't spread." 

Further to Livingstone's comments on Friday, the SHA provided a written statement reiterating that it is not aware of any systemic concerns.

"We are sorry to hear of these two concerns," said the statement.

"We will review our process in each case to determine what occurred and whether there are areas for improvement to prevent any similar concerns."

Testing in La Loche

The community of La Loche is at the epicentre of an outbreak in the far north region of Saskatchewan, where there are 148 active cases. 

The Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) for La Loche, which works with SHA officials, runs a social media page to provide updates to the community of La Loche and the nearby Clearwater River Dene Nation. 

On Wednesday, it shared a message attributed to Trevor Tessier of the SHA saying there have been complaints about how long it takes to get tested. 

"We have 10 times the number of staff at the facility who are all working together to help," said the message. 

"When they call you or come to you, answer them and take the time to ask them whatever questions you may have."

Health Minister Jim Reiter said Thursday everyone in La Loche has access to COVID-19 testing. 

The provincial government has pointed to its use of GeneXpert machines as evidence that testing capacity is being ramped up in La Loche and surrounding communities, along with contact tracing efforts. 

GeneXpert machines can provide test results within hours, compared to regular testing which can take days. 

Aerial view of the village of La Loche, Sask. including the Dene High School. (Submitted by Kalvin Jones)

That device is being used to test patients that have severe, acute respiratory illness, long-term care patients, and health care workers or first responders with respiratory symptoms.

"We do have a limited amount province-wide of cartridges for [GeneXpert machines] so the standard testing isn't done by that machine but the conventional way," said Reiter on Thursday. 

Livingstone also said Thursday that an airplane is being used to transport standard tests to the main laboratory in Regina for COVID-19 testing.

"Because of the size and scope of what is going on in the northwest we made the decision not to use traditional mechanisms to take swabs out of the north for testing," he said. 

"So what we do is we use an airplane daily to take down whatever swab that day that is not urgent to our major facility in Regina so the testing can be done as batch testing."

A message on the EOC social media page, attributed to the medical health officer for the far north region, reiterated that testing will be provided but indicated the SHA will initiate contact to arrange it.  

"We are not denying anyone testing," said the message attributed to Dr. Rim Zayed. 

"First, we reach out to people with our mobile units. Trying to do it in a systematic way."

La Loche Mayor Robert St. Pierre said drive-through testing is also available for anyone who wants it, adding that it takes about one to two days to get test results back from the standard method.


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