Vancouver Island sees increased demand, longer wait times for COVID-19 tests

Vancouver Island sees increased demand, longer wait times for COVID-19 tests
WatchAs case numbers go up in the province, so do the number of people calling to get tested. But getting a test is easier said than done. As Jasmine Bala reports, some islanders are waiting days just to get a callback.

As COVID-19 cases continue to spike in B.C., the demand for tests is rising as well.

On August 17, there were 266 tests conducted on Vancouver Island. The province saw a total of 2,325 tests. On June 17, when B.C. was seeing less than 20 new cases a day, there were 216 tests conducted in Island Health.

B.C. has the lowest testing rate of any province in Canada, at 52,460 people per million. Only Nunavut has lower testing rates.

Two new cases were reported in Island Health on Tuesday, bringing the total up to 156. With case numbers rising across the province, more people are trying to access tests.

“Island Health is currently experiencing higher than normal call volumes to our COVID-19 testing call centre due to the increase in cases across B.C.,” Island Health said in a statement to CHEK News on Tuesday. “We are moving quickly to implement mitigation strategies, including recruiting staffing resources, to ensure we can consistently meet the demand.”

The average turnaround time to get test results in the past week is about 19 hours. The problem, however, takes place before that step of the process – it’s getting an appointment.

READ MORE: British Columbia has the lowest COVID-19 testing rate of any province in Canada

One woman, who wanted to remain anonymous to protect her privacy, says she has been isolating in her home for seven days.

“Last Tuesday I started getting very sick,” she said. “I had my sore throat, chills, you know, full body aches, coughing, heavy chest.”

It’s been one week since the first symptom, and she still hasn’t been able to get tested. The woman said she called the Island testing centre on Wednesday and was put on hold for a total of four hours.

On Thursday, most of her symptoms had disappeared. However, in the spirit of being responsible, she got a referral from her doctor and was told a nurse would call her.

“I never heard back Thursday, never heard back Friday, never heard back Saturday,” she said.

When she woke up on Sunday morning, she had a voicemail from a nurse telling her to call back.

“But the callback number they gave me turned out to be the main number for the Island testing centre where you have to wait on hold for hours,” she said.

She stayed on hold for another two hours before giving up.

“If the Island Testing Centre calls me back and gives me an appointment, I will go get tested. But I am not going to sit on hold for hours out of my day listening to on hold music to try and get a COVID-19 test,” she said. “I mean that’s just ridiculous.”

Instead, the woman said she will remain in isolation and take extra precautions for now.

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

Island Health says a long wait time is considered 60 to 90 minutes. Currently, however, their call centre is experiencing technical difficulties and that’s why wait times may be longer than usual.

“We recognize the importance of early detection and follow up in preventing transmission of COVID-19 and are working as quickly as possible to decrease the wait times,” Island Health said.

A Victoria pharmacist is worried about these long wait times because it may stop people from getting tested.

“Testing is crucial to our response to the pandemic,” said Lindsay Dixon. “If we don’t have testing, then our contact tracing is also not effective. So access to testing is extremely important to any pandemic plan.”

Dixon called the Island Health COVID-19 testing call centre and went through the process herself last month. She was on hold for 90 minutes.

“Our testing needs to be much more accessible,” said Dixon. “Our results need to happen within two to three days within symptom onset in order to have an effective response.”

That might mean revisiting the whole testing process, she added, whether that’s walk-in testing like on the lower mainland or an online application like in Alberta.

The woman who has waited a week and still hasn’t gotten tested says the system that’s in place now doesn’t work and is more hassle than it’s worth.

“In the end, it actually would have been less time for me to get on a ferry, go to Vancouver, drive to a walk-in testing place, wait in line for three hours, get tested, get back on the ferry and drive back to Victoria,” she said. “I would have been done in a day.”

Island Health recommends anyone who is concerned they may have been exposed to COVID-19 or is experiencing symptoms to use the self-assessment tool to see if you need testing before calling the call centre.

“In B.C., people who do not have symptoms are not being tested,” Island Health said.

People can get assessed and tested at the Victoria Public Health Unit and the Peninsula Health Unit with a referral. The Cedar Hill Recreation Centre testing and assessment site closed at the end of June to enable Saanich to resume operations.

READ MORE: B.C. reports 83 new COVID-19 cases, 2 new cases in Island Health

Jasmine BalaJasmine Bala

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