Long waits for COVID-19 testing and information frustrating, frightening, Sask. residents say

·4 min read
People lined up outside the COVID-19 testing facility in Saskatoon will be waiting for hours to get their tests, according to Wednesday's estimated wait times.  (Chanss Lagaden/CBC - image credit)
People lined up outside the COVID-19 testing facility in Saskatoon will be waiting for hours to get their tests, according to Wednesday's estimated wait times. (Chanss Lagaden/CBC - image credit)

Scott Woods-Fehr was in line at the COVID-19 testing facility in Saskatoon about an hour and a half before it opened on Wednesday, hoping to beat the rush.

When he got there, he and his son drove the length of the lineup and counted — he was the 113th car.

They're among many Saskatchewan residents who have reported long wait times at testing centres and while on hold with HealthLine 811 for more information on COVID-19 protocols.

Woods-Fehr's son, Jonah, was getting ready for school when he noticed a cough and a sore throat. Out of caution, Woods-Fehr held his son from school and called HealthLine 811.

He was the 226th caller at about 7:30 a.m. on Tuesday. When he heard back at about 2 p.m., he was told his son should isolate at home, but needed to get a PCR test at a testing centre.

He was told to expect a long wait and warned that people often lined up a couple of hours before the site opens at noon.

"I thought, better to spend two hours knowing I won't be moving than being at the back of the line and not getting in," Woods-Fehr told CBC News while waiting in the lineup around noon.

He tried to book an appointment for a test, but the earliest appointment he could make was Sunday. Jonah was booked to get his second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine on Saturday.

By about 1:40 p.m. on Wednesday, the Saskatoon facility was booking tests for the afternoon of Jan. 17. The Regina site was booking for Sunday.

Other facilities, in less populated communities, were offering appointments much sooner.

Submitted by Scott Woods-Fehr
Submitted by Scott Woods-Fehr

Woods-Fehr said it's tempting to brush the symptoms off as a sign of a cold and avoid the lineup by simply isolating at home, but he feels a moral obligation to follow advice from public health.

"It's still frustrating to know [these are] the barriers put in place. If we think that contact tracing and early testing are some of our tools to get out of this, why is it so difficult?" he said.

When the Saskatoon facility opened, it posted a wait time of more than six hours; the Regina site had a wait of three to four hours at the same point. Prince Albert's site reported a four to five hour wait at about 1:30 p.m., while wait times in Yorkton were under 30 minutes.

Hours-long wait for HealthLine callback

Kyla Duke, whose daughter tested positive for COVID-19 on a rapid antigen test, said she waited almost 10 hours last week to get a call back from the HealthLine.

She insisted she didn't want to put blame on the nurses, who she said have been doing an amazing job, but was still frustrated by the long wait.

When she called 811 around 8 p.m. on Dec. 31, she was the 152nd in line, she said.

She got a call back at 5:30 a.m. on Jan. 1.

My daughter is only 11 years old.… It was so scary not knowing what to do. - Kyla Duke

She says it should be expected that 811 would be getting more calls, with the highly contagious Omicron coronavirus variant becoming dominant.

However, "this is the only communication line we have for [COVID] and I think the government should be thinking how they can help with the wait times if they aren't going to be putting down any restrictions," she said in a Facebook message, adding she'd like to see more resources dedicated to the HealthLine.

"My daughter is only 11 years old and unfortunately tested positive," she said. "It was so scary not knowing what to do."

While she was relieved when she finally got a call back, the nurse couldn't answer some of her questions, which means she'll have to call another number.

During a press conference on Wednesday, officials were asked about limited testing capacity and potential changes by the provincial government.

The Saskatchewan Health Authority is trying to "augment our resources" in affected locations to meet demands, the SHA's Derek Miller said.

CBC News asked the health authority for information on HealthLine and provincial testing capacity and delays on Wednesday morning but has not yet received a reply.

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