Many residents who lined up for hours in hopes of picking up a rapid test kit on Wednesday came away empty-handed but full of questions.
As the province grapples with record COVID-19 case numbers and the developing Omicron-variant threat, testing backlogs have grown and residents have been told to lean on free rapid tests to help curb transmission.
Dr. Jennifer Russell and Premier Blaine Higgs both urged New Brunswickers last week to acquire a supply of rapid test kits before the holidays, saying a significant number of recent cases were initially detected through rapid testing.
But for many, the tests are proving hard to come by.
Saint John resident Charles Waddell said he took time off work Wednesday to drive to the mobile site in Grand Bay-Westfield after two futile previous attempts to get rapid tests at Saint John's Diamond Jubilee Cruise Terminal.
When he got there, "there were cars lined up for half a kilometre," Waddell said.
"An hour and 10 minutes into waiting in this line, cars are driving by yelling things out the window. … They're saying 'There's no tests, they're not even set up, nobody even showed up.' "
Waddell said he later heard via social media that the kits had not arrived at the Grand Bay-Westfield site, and that the cruise terminal site was also out of kits.
Residents shared similar frustrations in other regions, posting on social media that the Fredericton site had run out of tests by mid-afternoon Wednesday.
In Edmundston, former mayor Cyrille Simard told CBC News that the pickup location at Edmundston Regional Hospital had also run out.
"I passed by to get some tests at [3 p.m.] and was told to come tomorrow as they ran out," Simard said.
Waddell questioned why this sort of pertinent information wasn't made available on the Horizon Health Network or government of New Brunswick websites.
"Me, I'm old, I'm in my 50s, I'm not even on social media," he said. "So I wasted a big part of my day."
Not enough test kits available, Horizon says
Public Health did not immediately respond to emailed questions Wednesday about whether there's a shortage of the rapid test kits in the province.
Russell said last week that there was no shortage of kits, and that more would be delivered in the coming weeks.
"Right now we have 189,000 kits or 1.5 million tests on hand," she said at a Dec. 21 news conference. "We anticipate another 500,000 tests this week and another 750,000 tests arriving the first week of January."
However, Horizon said Wednesday that not enough test kits are being delivered to its pickup locations.
"Horizon can confirm the number of Point of Care Test (POCT) kits being supplied to our hub and mobile pickup locations is insufficient to meet the current public demand," community vice-president Jean Daigle said in an email.
Daigle said Wednesday's hiccups at both the Saint John cruise terminal and Grand Bay-Westfield mobile pickup site were caused by a delivery delay, with the expected kits not arriving until "well after" the clinic was scheduled to open.
"Given this unexpected situation, the decision was made to close the site for the day and reopen on Thursday, Dec. 30 at 1 p.m. using the stock that arrived from this late delivery," he said.
Daigle noted Horizon is working with the government to address these issues and apologized for the inconvenience to residents.
"We are working with our on-site teams to help ensure that anyone waiting in line to receive a kit can be notified when supplies are running low in order to reduce the number of people waiting unnecessarily," he said.
In the meantime, some residents said the lack of available kits has them on edge.
Saint John resident Dick Murphy, who was also in that long lineup in Grand Bay-Westfield, acknowledged that the swift and unexpected arrival of the highly transmissible Omicron variant has complicated things for the province but said residents have all been told to test frequently with the rapid kits.
"We're trying to be conscientious and follow the rules," Murphy said.
"If the expectation is that if you are feeling a little off, and the front line of the whole thing is to give yourself a rapid test, then I guess it does concern me."