Yolanda Sheppard says her 86-year-old father had about five minutes to celebrate his birthday before being left alone in his room again at a long-term care home in St. John’s.
He had already spent the better part of a week isolating in his room as he awaited the result of a COVID-19 test. Even the cleaner was not allowed to enter.
“No contact with people, really. Nothing. They’d bring him his meals and medications and leave it there,” Sheppard said Tuesday, Jan. 11.
“Not good for his mental health at all. He was so frustrated as the days went by.”
Her father was one of thousands of Newfoundland and Labrador residents left waiting for days as a backlog of more than 6,600 COVID-19 tests waited to be processed in labs in other provinces. The results of about half of them finally showed up on the weekend. At least some of the tests date back to before New Year’s Eve.
Sheppard said she had taken her father home for Christmas before provincial case counts started climbing. They soon realized it would be safer to get him back in the home, but by that time the management told them he had to get a test. They were assured the result should only take three days at most.
So he isolated in his room. Three days came and went. Then a notice appeared on the online results page saying it could take five days. That time also came and went.
One worker told Sheppard her father was quite dejected.
“She said, ‘I brought him up his supper and he looked so sad,’” she said.
“And I was in tears. I mean, it’s heartbreaking.”
But the staff were very helpful, she said, and were equally frustrated.
“They were trying to find out the results themselves. They were calling people.
On Sunday, Sheppard's father's birthday, the home’s manager finally got through to someone at the health authority and got the result. It was negative.
They let Sheppard, masked and sterilized, bring a home-cooked meal to her father. Within minutes, however, they got notice that a staff member — a cleaner — had tested positive, and the entire facility had to go into lockdown.
“He had about five minutes of freedom, and he had to go back into isolation again,” Sheppard said.
At a news conference Monday, Health Minister Dr. John Haggie apologized for the delay in results, but rejected suggestions the public should have been told earlier the tests were sent out of the province.
"We were not sure when these results would come,” he said. “They arrived over the weekend and were put into the COVID tracker so people could access them through their portal, and here we are today explaining the situation."
Haggie said authorities have been transparent and timely in their communications.
Sheppard isn’t so sure.
“Knowledge is power. If I had known it could be longer than that from the beginning, I could have prepared him a little better,” she said, describing how frustrated both she and her father became.
Meanwhile, Eastern Health confirmed Tuesday it had sent 1,300 more tests out of the province on Monday to help clear up a backlog — the same day of Haggie’s news conference.
Haggie said the swabs were taken between Dec. 29 and Jan. 6, and that the rest of the results should be known within 48 hours.
However, Eastern Health said in its statement the swabs that were sent to various other labs for processing span the period from Dec. 27 to Jan. 7.
“The results for specimens sent to these laboratories began uploading to Eastern Health’s system late Saturday night and will continue until all specimens have been processed,” the authority said.
So far, the delayed results have added more than 1,000 new positive cases to the provincial totals — 680 reported by Haggie on Monday and 323 more positive results on Tuesday.
Tuesday’s daily total was 427 new cases.
Eastern Health said part of the problem was that the National Microbiology Laboratory referral sites set a maximum of 2,500 tests per day, so Eastern Health had to divide the excess swabs and send them on consecutive days, from Jan. 5-7.
“On Jan. 10 we shipped an additional 1,300 specimens to clear up the remaining backlog which had accumulated over the weekend,” the authority said. “This will further enable us to meet our benchmarks for reporting of test results within 12 to 24 hours.”
Public Health announced Jan. 6 that close contacts of people who test positive should presume they have COVID-19 if they are symptomatic, rather than getting tested.
Peter Jackson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Telegram