Some COVID-19 test requests lost in 'technical glitch' fax backlog

·3 min read

Some online requests for COVID-19 tests got lost in the "technical glitch" involving fax machines that contributed to a backlog of requests, CBC News has learned.

"We are investigating and do no believe this is widespread," Public Health spokesperson Bruce Macfarlane said in an emailed statement late Friday.

It's unclear whether those affected will now drop to the bottom of the wait list.

As of Friday at 4:30 p.m., the backlog stood at 690 people — 350 in the Saint John health region (Zone 2) and 340 in the Fredericton region, said Macfarlane.

He did not say what the backlog was at its peak.

The number of people self-isolating has reached 1,760 — 1,000 in the Saint John region, 386 in the Moncton region (Zone 1) and 377 in the Fredericton region. All three regions are in the orange phase of COVID-19 recovery.

Contact tracing has established links between at least two of the regions, Macfarlane confirmed, without elaborating.

He did not say how many of those in isolation are health-care workers, but there was "upwards of about 74" in the Saint John area alone on Thursday, Russell had said.

"Some" of the people isolating "may be waiting on their Day 10 test if they got caught in the fax backlog," said Macfarlane.

New goal to clear backlog

Dr. Jennifer Russell, the chief medical officer of health, had hoped to have the backlog rectified by Friday, at the latest.

Public Health now anticipates clearing the backlog by the end of the weekend, said Macfarlane.

Processing capacity continues to be expanded, he said.

Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press
Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press

Another testing queue has been established at the Capital Exhibit Centre in Fredericton, and another assessment site will be operating within the city limits "very shortly."

In Saint John, an additional assessment site is now operating at St. James the Less Church, 1750 Rothesay Rd., and additional queues have been set up at the Ropewalk Road location.

Why faxes are used

During Wednesday's COVID-19 news conference, Health Minister Dorothy Shephard told reporters that a "technical glitch" earlier this week had delayed online test requests getting through to schedulers.

On Thursday, Russell revealed that it "had to do with fax machines" in the Fredericton health region, Zone 3.

"My understanding is that's been resolved," she added.

Submitted by the Government of New Brunswick
Submitted by the Government of New Brunswick

Asked for more information about the glitch, Macfarlane said only: "There was some backlog created by fax machine but largely was the result of an increase in demand for COVID-19 testing."

The online registration forms for COVID-19 tests are received by the designated testing centres by fax, said Macfarlane.

Asked why faxes are used, he replied: "With assessment centres being set up and taken down throughout the province on a as needed bases, fax machines have been used in this infrastructure due to their ease of mobility and for confidentiality."

He did not elaborate. The Department of Health has electronic medical records. The transition program to an e-health system was implemented in 2012.

Positivity rate

New Brunswick's COVID-19 positivity rate between Nov. 11 and Nov. 25 was 0.9 per cent, said Macfarlane.

That means of the 690 backlogged, waiting to be tested, about six will likely test positive.

By comparison, the national positivity rate is 3.1 per cent. Across Canada, 5,967 cases were reported Friday.