Winnipeg grapples with COVID testing demand surge
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 17/09/2020 (865 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A line of cars, three-blocks deep, stretched through the St. John’s neighbourhood Thursday morning, as people waited for a COVID-19 test at the single drive-thru site in Winnipeg.
Since July, the stream of traffic through the quiet residential area has been constant, Sylver Ballantyne said, and her street is filled with idling vehicles most mornings while her children play in the front yard.
The drivers are waiting to pull into the converted Manitoba Public Insurance service centre on Main Street to have their nasal cavity swabbed. On Thursday, the queue stretched from Church Avenue, down Charles Street to Mountain Avenue.
“If that’s going to be a designated pandemic site, the homeowners should know that,” Ballantyne said. “Long-term, I wouldn’t be opposed to it, as long as they let us know.”
While the temporary testing site has added significantly more traffic and new people to the area, Ballantyne said she is glad they are showing up to be tested, but questions why only four sites are open to all of Winnipeg.
“That’s ridiculous,” she said. “It should be more widely available, so that there isn’t a thousand people looking at my kids everyday. That’s unsettling for me.”
For the third consecutive day, the four Winnipeg COVID-19 testing sites hit capacity before closing at 4 p.m. Both the MPI drive-thru site and the walk-up location at downtown Thunderbird House had to turn people away by 3:30 p.m., followed by sites at 2735 Pembina Hwy. and 604 St. Mary’s Rd. shortly after.
In a written statement, the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority said it is looking at short-term capacity enhancements to manage increased testing volumes, while work is ongoing to find space and staff for potential sustained testing demand in the fall and winter.
On Wednesday, the WRHA collected a record number of swabs, with 1,096 tests administered across the four sites. Still, people seeking a test in the late afternoon were turned away. On Tuesday, staffing and scheduling issues contributed to lengthy waits, with all four sites hitting capacity by early afternoon.
“Testing is certainly a big component of our response, and so we’re working on that capacity. We don’t want to be turning people away, we don’t want to be having extended wait times,” chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin said during a media briefing Thursday.
The five-day test positivity rate Thursday was 1.7 per cent, with 11 new cases announced in the province. Public health officials said 1,403 tests were processed Wednesday, and community transmission rates are sitting around 20 per cent within Winnipeg.
Identifying new cases, investigating and isolating their contacts are important aspects in containing the contagion, and public health is working to improve wait times and capacity at testing sites “in short order,” Roussin said.
“Whether you’re able to get a test or not, we don’t want symptomatic people going out in public. They should be isolating,” he said. “Ideally, we can test them because we can do a contact investigation.”
However, finding staff and space to run additional testing sites in the city continues to be a challenge. Health-care staff who were previously working at testing sites early in the coronavirus pandemic have returned to their former roles, as the province tries to clear a backlog of surgeries.
Meanwhile, Health, Seniors and Active Living Minister Cameron Friesen said the department is doing a “stem-to-stern” analysis of the province’s testing program, with recommendations expected in a “matter of weeks.”
The review will examine workflow processes, staffing, locations, logistics, as well as enhancing data entry at screening sites to speed up the process.
Friesen also said public health is in discussion with the City of Winnipeg and the province’s Crown corporations to identify and secure new spaces to set up testing sites.
“We want to know what we’re doing well, we want to know what we can improve on, and we’re doing that work now because we’ll need it for later this fall,” the minister said.
Danielle Da Silva
Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.
Updated on Thursday, September 17, 2020 6:23 PM CDT: Updates photos
Updated on Thursday, September 17, 2020 9:35 PM CDT: adds factbox