COVID-19 case spike fuels demand for testing within Island Health

WatchAt the height of the pandemic, officials scrambled to get COVID-19 testing sites up and running. That usually meant someone could be tested within 24 hours. But that has changed over the subsequent months. Mary Griffin reports.

It can now take days to get an appointment at the COVID-19 testing facility set up by Island Health at the Cook Street public health unit in Victoria.

Local pharmacist Lindsay Dixon said her recent experience to book an appointment took an hour and a half. ”

“I did phone Island Health myself, last week, and the process did take about 90 minutes from start to finish,” Dixon said.

And she said others have waited even longer.

“Most people are not going to be willing to wait up to four hours to get an assessment to speak with a nurse to get an appointment for their COVID-19 test. So I think that that could be a barrier to people getting tested.”

At the end of March, Island Health set up drive-through testing centres, fully staffing all services, including its call centres.

“Pretty much it was a 24-hour turnaround for testing.  So you would call the call centre. And then within 24 hours, you would have an appointment to come to one of our testing clinics for testing,” Victoria Schmid, the vice-president of pandemic planning for Island Health said.

That time frame is now closer to three or four days. Some days, Island Health receives more than 500 calls requesting a COVID-19 test. But Schmid said the health authority reassigned call centre staff after B.C. managed to flatten the curve.  Now the surgical clerks that worked during the height of the pandemic are back booking surgeries.

“We’re trying to refill those positions as quickly as possible to make sure that we have full staffing in the call centre to allow for those timely turnarounds,” Schmid said.

But Dixon is concerned with case numbers increasing across the province, the wait for tests will hurt everyone.

“I think that we’re in a bit of a window now where we have the opportunity to make that process more efficient and more accessible for everyone. It doesn’t have to be, you know, a 90 minute, or a four-hour phone call,” Dixon said.

Island Health is hoping to have enough staff in place before the fall. But they are recommending that anyone with potential symptoms use the BC Centre for Disease Control’s online screener first, then call for a COVID-19 test if symptomatic.

READ MORE: B.C. reports 34 new cases of COVID-19, with 1 new case in Island Health

Mary GriffinMary Griffin

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