After the outcry over long lineups and people being turned away, the province said several more COVID-19 testing sites will open next week, providing an additional 1,400 tests a day, with the ability to increase to 2,600 tests.
The private lab company Dynacare, it said, is recruiting staff to open a mobile collection site in Winnipeg as early as Monday, with additional drive-thru sites to open in Winnipeg, Brandon, Winkler, Portage and Dauphin in the coming weeks.
It won't be soon enough for one woman from Garden City, who waited in line for six hours at the provincially run drive-thru testing site on north Main Street Tuesday to have her symptomatic child tested. She had been turned away on Monday because the site had reached capacity. When she arrived an hour before it opened, she estimated 200 cars were in line ahead of her.
"This is a whole day — so a whole day off of work," said the mother who didn't want to give her name or identify her child. "Of course we have to do it, but they know we’re in the middle of a pandemic, and especially with school starting and the amount of students showing signs and symptoms, they should be opening more sites."
When asked why and how the mobile testing unit will be used, and where the locations of new drive-thru testing sites will be, a spokeswoman for the provincial government Tuesday referred all questions to Dynacare. The company did not answer questions from the Free Press.
A sooner-than-expected second wave of COVID-19 resulted in clusters of cases in western Manitoba in August, and now a steady surge in Winnipeg, which had 20 of the 24 new cases reported in Manitoba as of Tuesday.
Of Manitoba's 380 active COVID-19 cases, 305 are in Winnipeg.
As more Winnipeggers face exposure to the virus, more are seeking COVID-19 tests.
By 2:45 p.m. Tuesday, three Winnipeg sites — at 2735 Pembina Hwy, 604 St. Mary's Rd. and the 1284 Main Street drive-thru — were at capacity, said a spokesperson for the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority.
The long lines are due to a lack of medical staff to conduct the nasal cavity swabs, chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin explained last week.
When the health care system put elective surgeries and procedures on hold in April, in anticipation of an influx of COVID-19 hospitalizations that didn't materialize, health care workers were freed up to help collect the nasopharyngeal swab samples, Roussin said.
"They know we’re in the middle of a pandemic, and especially with school starting and the amount of students showing signs and symptoms, they should be opening more sites.” – Mother who was waiting to get her symptomatic child tested
"People were not doing their normal work, so shifting people from other areas was easy at that time."
Now the system is trying to catch up on the backlog of rescheduled surgeries and diagnostic tests. Roussin couldn't say when they could marshal the resources to be able to collect more samples from people lining up to get tested.
On Tuesday, the province announced Dynacare would hire staff to do the work, but no details were provided.
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Public health reported that 1,205 COVID-19 laboratory tests were completed on Monday.
Premier Brian Pallister has said the province needs to be able to perform 3,000 tests a day by the fall to safely reopen the economy but, as of Tuesday — the beginning of fall — Manitoba is about half-way there.
Meantime, callers to Health Links, which provides information to people who have COVID-19 questions and concerns, reported long wait times to speak with a nurse. People voiced their irritation in social media posts. The WRHA told the Free Press it wouldn't be able to respond to a request for comment.
— with files from Danielle DaSilva
Carol Sanders Legislature reporter
After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.