Fax machines played role in 'technical glitch' that led to COVID-19 test backlog

·3 min read

The "technical glitch" that contributed to a backlog of COVID-19 tests in New Brunswick involved fax machines, the province's chief medical officer of health revealed on Thursday.

Dr. Jennifer Russell didn't say specifically what the problem was, only that it "had to do with fax machines" in the Fredericton health region, Zone 3.

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

Russell was responding to a question from CBC News about comments made by Health Minister Dorothy Shephard at Wednesday's briefing.

Shephard told reporters that a "technical glitch" earlier this week had delayed online test requests getting through to schedulers, and that a second "issue" had also contributed to the backlog.

The revelation that fax machines were involved prompted an immediate response on social media, with some users suggesting, tongue in cheek, that a paper jam was responsible.

Most posts expressed shock fax machines are used, or even still exist. "#AxeTheFax," wrote Linda Dalpé.

"The results are on the way by Pony Express," wrote Kendall Harrison.

Asked Thursday for more information about Shephard's comments, Russell said she didn't know what the second issue was.

"We do have a backlog, which we have been working on [by putting a second testing centre in Saint John], and we were hoping to have it rectified by Friday, at the latest. So that's what I can tell you right now," she said.

Reporters were limited to one question each.

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

The extent of the backlog has not been made clear, but Shephard noted Wednesday an increase in requests for testing. On Tuesday alone, 1,384 requests for a test were submitted online, including 503 from the Saint John region and 333 from the Fredericton region.

Russell acknowledged Wednesday the delays "would be frustrating and cause more anxiety."

The backlog in the "ability to test and screen symptomatic patients in a timely manner" was one of the reasons the government decided to bump the Fredericton region back to the stricter orange phase of COVID-19 recovery, effective at midnight Thursday, she said. It's "really, really important."

Other factors included the high numbers of social interactions and settings, multiple exposure settings, including schools, pubs, gyms, health facilities and sports clubs, and "significant" population interaction between the Fredericton region and the two other regions already in the orange phase — Saint John (Zone 2) and Moncton (Zone 1).

Testing capacity is being increased in both the Fredericton and Saint John regions "to ensure that bottlenecks do not occur," she said.

On Wednesday, Russell said the backlog did not affect priority testing, such as pre-surgery testing or results for people who are close contacts of confirmed cases or self-isolating.

As of Thursday, about 1,700 people in the province are in self-isolation, including 377 in the Fredericton region, said Russell.

Public Health completed at least 1,497 tests on Wednesday, according to the government's website. That's up from 1,060 on Tuesday and 316 on Monday.

A total of 120,145 tests have been completed since the pandemic began in March.