As It Happens·Q&A

Ottawa family waits in line 3 days in a row for COVID-19 tests

Bashira Kofo had to leave work as soon as she got the call that her four-year-old had a runny nose. 

Bashira Kofo says she was forced to take time off work because of son's runny nose

People line up outside a COVID-19 testing facility in Ottawa on Tuesday. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Bashira Kofo had to leave work as soon as she got the call that her four-year-old had a runny nose. 

Her son's school requires all students with runny noses to get tested for COVID-19, a measure put in place throughout his Ottawa school board.

Ottawa's medical officer of health, Dr. Vera Etches, advised parents before the start of the school year to keep kids at home at the first sign of illness — even if it's just a case of the sniffles. 

According to Etches, the child and everyone else in the household should stay at home and self-isolate until 14 days have passed or the child tests negative for COVID-19

Kofo has two sons, ages four and seven, who were both asked to leave school until the runny nose subsided. As a personal support worker, she had to take time off from work and rescheduled her appointments with her clients in order to take her sons to a local COVID-19 assessment centre.

She is one of many parents lining up across the country to get tested for COVID-19. Here is part of her conversation with As it Happens host Carol Off.

How would you describe the experience you and your boys had this week as you tried to get a test for COVID-19?

Stressful. Very stressful.

You headed out on Monday. What was it like when you first arrived at the testing site?

I was like, "Oh, my God." 

I saw people in chairs, in blankets, sitting down on the floor, and I knew I just [couldn't] wait.... I wasn't prepared.

When I was standing there trying to figure what I was going to do, they told me … they had reached their max [and] had stopped taking people at 1 o'clock. I said, "Oh, OK."

I went back the next day at 10 o'clock. I stood in line [and] by 11 o'clock, they told us that they had reached their max for the day, that people already standing in line might be there until 4 or 4:30.

Long lines at testing centres, like this one pictured in Toronto on Sept. 16, 2020, mirror a spike in cases of COVID-19 in Ontario. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

What was the weather like? 

The first day was not so bad. The second day, it was OK. The third day was very cold.

So it's very cold. You're there with the kids. How are they? How are they responding to being dragged out every morning to get in line like this?

A lot of explaining.

I explained to them, "We have to do this so you can go back to school."

[My seven-year-old] was excited to go back to school. So that, I guess, gave him the courage to keep going.

The last day, when we got up very early, I told them we have to move really fast. Otherwise, we're going to have to go again the next day. They [didn't] want to do that, so they co-operated.

You got them up at 5:30 [a.m.] to go and get in line.

Yes. I wanted to make sure they [had] breakfast.… Plus, it's difficult to get kids ready.

On the third day, you were able to get the tests.... Have you got the results?

Yes. Negative. 

So the kids can go back to school?

Yes.

A sign shows the estimated wait time for a COVID-19 test in Ottawa on Monday. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

You work a full-time job. How does this affect you if your kid has a runny nose and you have to go through this? 

I cannot work until the kids get tested. And [the test] says it's negative so I can work [again]. I was off. I was taken off the schedule.

If you can't work, do you get paid?

From my employer, no. But because of COVID, I guess the government did. They said I can report if I'm off of work because of CERB. 

Meanwhile, you got a job and people are depending on you. If anybody [gets] any sign of a cold, and we know that kids get them a lot, [and] this happens each time, how are people going to manage?

It's going to be very difficult. It's going to be a disaster. I mean, ideally, it's better if they have to take me off the schedule. I have a couple of clients I will schedule to see the following day. Or they'll have to cancel it and find somebody to replace and fill my schedule, which is going to be very challenging.

But you stuck with it. You got the tests done. You followed the rules. What are other people saying? You've told them about your experience. How did they respond to you?

They're not telling the school if their kids have a runny nose or stuffy nose, or anything. They're just not going to go through the test.

They're going to lie to the school if their kids are sick?

They're not going to tell the school.… They said they would come up with another story.

Wow. The whole idea of this [testing] is somehow supposed to protect kids. [But] it's collapsing because of the wait lines and time these people spend in line.

Yes, yes. It is.

What would you say to the Ontario government or the school board if you could speak to them about what you went through?

[I'd ask] if they can possibly do the testing process a little bit sooner. Plus, they had [runny noses] before, like when this whole thing started, they don't consider a runny nose as having COVID. You have to have a couple of symptoms before they consider [it's COVID].

Maybe they need to go back to that to check to make sure, "OK, do you have a runny nose? Do you have fever? Do you have anything else with it?" to tell me if there's going to be a reason for them to go get a test or not. 

It's actually true that all the studies say a sniffly nose is not alone a reason to get tested. Lots of people who are trying to get tested with kids are going to have to go there [even if they] do have a cold.

It's going to be interesting because they told me … we [can] sit at home for 14 days if I don't want to test … then come back.

I was like, "Fourteen days? I can't sit at home for 14 days."


Written by Mehek Mazhar. Interview produced by Jeanne Armstrong. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. 

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story stated that Ottawa's medical officer of health advised family members of children showing signs of illness to get tested for COVID-19. In fact, she said that if someone in your household becomes sick, "everyone in the household should self-isolate but only the person with symptoms should be tested."
    Sep 21, 2020 5:37 PM ET

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