Demand for COVID-19 tests in Manitoba is increasing, with cases of the common cold on the rise and travellers and employees seeking asymptomatic tests.
On Wednesday afternoon, a line of at least 35 vehicles slowly snaked through the lane to the COVID-19 test centre on Nairn Avenue, with some people waiting up to 40 minutes to get into the testing bay.
A provincial spokesperson said public health officials are aware, anecdotally, of people showing up in greater numbers for COVID-19 tests for travel or work-related purposes.
"Manitobans are reminded that provincial test sites are not for workplace testing or outbound travel testing," the spokesperson said in a statement to the Free Press. "There continues to be capacity at sites across Manitoba. If there are lines at one testing site, people may choose to visit another nearby site to access a COVID-19 test."
People can also book a COVID-19 appointment online or by phone instead of waiting at a drive-thru test site, the spokesperson said, adding the province regularly assess the adequacy of testing capacity.
A request for comment from Dynacare, which provides the bulk of COVID-19 testing services in Winnipeg, on increasing staffing to meet demand was deferred to the provincial government.
Testing volumes have increased steadily since the Labour Day weekend, with more tests reported so far in September than in the entire month of August, provincial data show.
On Wednesday, 2,799 COVID-19 swabs were processed, bringing the five-day average to over 2,600. However, just 2.5 per cent of the tests taken across Manitoba in the past five days have come back positive for COVID-19, with that number even lower in Winnipeg.
The province said the test positivity-rate in Winnipeg was 1.1 per cent as of Monday.
Manitoba public health was unable to say Wednesday how many people tested for COVID-19 in the past week reported symptoms or attended at the direction of public health, versus attending for other reasons such as being cleared for travel or work.
The province was also unable to provide a breakdown of the ages of people tested for COVID-19 over the past seven days.
Employers who want to screen staff regularly need to arrange for rapid testing through the government, according to the province, while travellers should be tested at a private laboratory.
Advertised rates for private COVID-19 PCR testing in Manitoba range between $350 and $450.
Increased circulation of other respiratory viruses has also led to more people getting tested for COVID-19.
Manitoba public health said rhinovirus, which causes the common cold, is circulating widely in the community and showing up regularly in samples taken at COVID-19 swab sites. The virus was also making its rounds this summer.
"There are low levels of activity for other respiratory viruses such as (respiratory syncytial virus), adenovirus and enterovirus," a public health spokesperson said. "Viral respiratory illnesses typically do increase in the fall so this was expected."
Influenza has not been detected, the spokesperson said.
Danielle Da Silva
Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.