‘I feel like I’m dying’: Vancouver Island senior without car struggles to get tested

'I feel like I'm dying': Vancouver Island senior without car struggles to get tested
WatchA 62-year-old woman living in Victoria has been showing COVID-19 symptoms, but hasn't been able to get tested because she doesn't have a car. Jasmine Bala has the story.

Cathy Byrnell, a 62-year-old Victoria woman, has been isolating at home with her dog and cat while showing COVID-19 symptoms.

“I feel like I’m dying,” Byrnell said. “I am a senior citizen and I know I have COVID, I truly do. I’ve had fevers, the diarrhea, the vomiting, and just been completely lethargic.”

Byrnell has been showing these symptoms for several weeks now but hasn’t been able to get tested. That’s because she usually gets around by transit and doesn’t have a car.

“I cannot get to a place for testing,” Byrnell said. “[It] would be so irresponsible of me to do that because I would have to get on a transit bus.”

For individuals unable to drive, walk or cycle to a testing location, Island Health recommends reaching out to family, friends or neighbours who are willing to drive them. The symptomatic individual is expected to sit in the back seat with windows open, while practicing good hygiene. This includes wearing a mask and hand hygiene.

If no one is able to assist with transportation, Island Health said in a statement to CHEK News, then “people are encouraged to explore whether there is a taxi, HandyDART, or other ‘one person’ only transportation services in their community that have enabled COVID-19 cleaning protocols.”

None of Byrnell’s family and friends feel comfortable taking her and in her condition, she can’t walk or cycle to a testing site either.

Byrnell said she also doesn’t feel right asking a taxi to take her and putting someone else at risk.

Island Health said if no transportation options exist, an individual can phone the call centre to determine whether mobile testing is an option in their community. Anyone who is waiting for a COVID-19 test, they added, is asked to self-isolate.

One option to get to a testing site is Victoria-based company Bluebird Cabs.

“We do get calls daily to take customers over to the testing centre,” said general manager Haemant Sawh, adding they can see anywhere from two to five calls in one day. “So we want to make sure the cars that are available are aware that this is what they’re doing and making sure that the cars are cleaned and prepared.”

The taxis that are used to take customers to testing sites have partitions, which make up about 40 per cent of the fleet. The passengers are required to wear masks and drivers wear both masks and gloves. Windows remain open while heading to the site and the cars get sanitized before and after.

“It is a service that is required, it is needed,” said Sawh. “And we’re going to try our best to make sure we do provide that service as best as possible.”

People requiring transportation to a testing site can call the company. Customer service representatives will take the call and ask about symptoms.

“As much as we like to provide the service, we also want to make sure the drivers are safe, that the cars are safe for anyone travelling in the cars after,” Sawh added. “We also like to hope and trust that the passenger will make sure that they are up front and honest with us [about symptoms].”

Even if individuals have symptoms like a high fever, Sawh said the company will do their best to provide transportation.

However, he added, it’s up to the driver if they feel safe accepting the call after hearing the client’s symptoms.

Jasmine BalaJasmine Bala

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