Parents encounter long lines to get kids tested for COVID-19

·3 min read
The pop-up COVID-19 assessment centre at the McNabb Arena opened 30 minutes ahead of schedule on Saturday to help accommodate the growing line of people.  (Alex Behne/CBC - image credit)
The pop-up COVID-19 assessment centre at the McNabb Arena opened 30 minutes ahead of schedule on Saturday to help accommodate the growing line of people. (Alex Behne/CBC - image credit)

Heather Darch and her youngest son arrived at the temporary COVID-19 assessment centre at the McNabb Arena on Percy Street before it opened Sunday morning, but they still had to wait an hour and a half before he could be tested.

"It's hard when you've got little kids because as soon as they go back to school, they always come down with colds instantly in September," Darch said. "So I guess it's a necessary evil that we have to get tested."

With children back in the classroom across the city, some parents are calling for a better system for testing kids for COVID-19, and say the extra testing capacity added over the weekend is still falling short of demand.

If every time we have to come here and spend time getting them tested so they could go back to school, it's annoying. - Ghislaine Kouame, parent

According to Ottawa Public Health (OPH), children should stay home from school and be tested if they develop chills, a cough, shortness of breath, a decrease or loss of taste or smell, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea.

If a child has milder symptoms such as a runny nose, sore throat, headache, fatigue or aching muscles, they should stay home but don't need to undergo testing unless they've been identified as high-risk. OPH has created an online screening tool to help parents figure out the best course of action.

"Runny nose and sore throat symptoms alone do not require a test, and the child may return to school when symptoms have improved," an OPH spokesperson told CBC News.

Alex Behne/CBC
Alex Behne/CBC

The pop-up testing centre at McNabb operates on a first-come, first-served basis.

Ghislaine Kouame brought her two daughters to be tested after they developed flu-like symptoms. They waited more than two hours in line.

"We have to find a better solution because school is back. Kids will get the flu. They will get sick," she said. "If every time we have to come here and spend time getting them tested so they could go back to school, it's annoying."

On Friday, OPH tweeted that its partners were working to increase testing capacity.

According to the city's COVID-19 task force, the McNabb centre opened 30 minutes ahead of schedule on Saturday to accommodate the growing line.

According to the task force, more than 600 tests were conducted at the McNabb pop-up site over the weekend, and there are plans to extend it through the week.

"We are doing what we can to keep those waiting in line informed of their expected wait and to ensure that they will be seen before the site closes," the task force wrote in an email.

The task force said there's capacity to test 2,400 across the city each weekday, and 1,500 a day on weekends.

Alex Behne/CBC
Alex Behne/CBC

At an Ottawa Board of Health meeting n Monday, the city's medical officer of health Dr. Vera Etches said the COVID-19 testing taskforce is well-equipped to ramp up testing capacity in response to the lineups.

Etches pointed to the rollout of take-home COVID testing kits as an alternative way for parents to test their children. Take-home kits, she said, are currently available in 177 schools — or around half the schools — in the city. Etches said that number will increase in the coming weeks.

Parents can also book appointments at the CHEO assessment centre at Brewer Arena, which had extra spots open over the weekend.

Jed Wilson said he didn't mind lining up at the McNabb Arena, but wished there was an option closer to his home in Orléans. His son Emerson had a sore throat and runny nose.

"All I want to do is get tested and get out of here," the third-grader said.

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