COVID-19 test kits have arrived in Labrador amid criticism over lack of supply, long lines

·3 min read
A lack of test kits on Labrador's north coast has residents voicing displeasure over the government's preparedness. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press - image credit)
A lack of test kits on Labrador's north coast has residents voicing displeasure over the government's preparedness. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Communities in Labrador faced COVID-19 testing delays this week, being turned away for appointments and waiting hours in line for a swab, spurring some residents to voice their displeasure over the supply and staffing shortages in the region.

As of Wednesday, there were 10 presumptive positive COVID-19 cases in Nain, with 39 confirmed cases in the Labrador-Grenfell Health region overall.

Despite the concern about spread in the fly-in community, some Nain residents had their COVID-19 tests cancelled earlier this week due to the shortage.

Rex Holwell's son returned home to Nain from university on Sunday, on one of the PAL Airlines flights that were deemed to be COVID-19 exposure sites. However, Holwell said things did not go smoothly when trying to get a test.

Labrador-Grenfell Health called and booked him a test on Monday afternoon. Then, a second call bumped it to Monday evening. Holwell said a third call that same day cancelled it altogether because the clinic didn't have any testing swabs or kits.

"They've known about COVID for the last two years. How are they not prepared? It's a total lack of planning or preparation from the administration … and it's simply inexcusable," Holwell said.

Submitted by Rex Holwell Jr
Submitted by Rex Holwell Jr

Minister of Health John Haggie said the province doesn't have a crystal ball to see where testing will be needed, and that there's been a lag in some areas. He said his team is working closely with Labrador-Grenfell Health on supply.

"We had a surge and the surge was greater than we predicted," Haggie said. "The supply is there. Weather permitting, we will be distributing them as rapidly and as needed. These tests do expire, so it's important that we use them prudently."

Haggie said there are now rapid test kits in each of the coastal clinics and they were being restocked as of Wednesday. Planes delivered kits on Dec. 28.

Holwell's son eventually got his test, but waiting for one was a stressful experience, he said, pointing to a tragic history of epidemics — including the Spanish flu and tuberculosis — among Nunatsiavut's Inuit population.

"We're staying strong to protect each other. But at the same time, a lot of us feel that we don't have the support from LGH or department or whoever looks after that to make sure you know, we have the proper facilities here," Holwell said.

Drive-thru lineups lasting hours

Elsewhere in the region, residents of central Labrador are being told seek testing as needed after a number of exposure alerts in recent days.

However, people in the only drive-thru testing line in Happy Valley-Goose Bay were waiting up to six hours earlier this week — with some leaving at the end of the day without a swab.

Audrey Heard said it's been frustrating waiting in line for hours on end, only to be turned away.

Heard didn't get a test Tuesday after waiting hours, she said. She was told to come back the next morning and that she would be given priority, but found herself once again in a long line for about seven hours, without the ability to use the bathroom, before getting tested.

Regan Burden/CBC
Regan Burden/CBC

"I'm scared for sure," Heard said. "I'm still scared, even though I don't have the symptoms, but knowing that there probably people who actually have it and in this line up, I can't imagine how they feel."

Long lines in recent days are due to staffing issues at the testing site, Haggie said Wednesday, noting that the same staff doing contact tracing and vaccinations are working at the testing facilities, including volunteers that were not scheduled to work.

"The demand is significant and they're working their way through it," Haggie said.

"If they had enough staff, they should open up another testing site," Heard said. "I think they should have thought it through better."

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