COVID-19 testing clinics across Quebec are stretched to the limit and Quebecers who are headed there en masse face long waits for tests — and results.
At Montreal’s Hôtel-Dieu, hundreds of people were waiting in line Tuesday morning. Many of them, including Jonathan Nault, were experiencing symptoms but were unable to get a free rapid-test kit at their local pharmacy.
Nault said it took about 30 minutes to get through the line and speak to staff, who gave him the option of taking a PCR test on site or heading home with a rapid testing kit.
“We decided [to take the test] at home,” said Nault. “We’ve got to take it once today, another one tomorrow and if we’re positive we’ve got to wait for ten days and then take the official test.”
At 3:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Montreal’s West Island health authority sent out a tweet saying its drop-in testing sites in Kirkland and in Verdun had reached capacity for the day.
One of the few testing centres on the island that didn’t hit full capacity today was the Viau drive-thru site that closes at 5:30 p.m. and can handle about 300 daily tests.
Don’t get tested unless you have symptoms
Public health authorities are asking Quebecers to fill out the COVID-19 symptom self-assessment form online, try to take a rapid test first and only go to a testing centre if they’re showing symptoms.
But the distribution of free testing kits through pharmacies hasn’t kept up with demand.
The province says people who are travelling or heading to holiday gatherings should avoid public testing clinics and either pay for a test at a private laboratory or pick up a rapid testing kit where they’re available.
Some Montreal testing centres offer the option of booking an appointment ahead of time but wait times are currently anywhere between one and five days.
Laval takes a different approach
North of Montreal, Laval’s director of public health, Dr. Jean-Pierre Trépanier, says his testing centres are taking saliva samples instead of handing out rapid tests.
“And so there are no waiting lines, but the fact is that the waiting line is at the lab,” he said, adding that lab is currently at maximum capacity.
Laval public health says it’s been taking roughly 3,000 tests per day since cases spiked and it reported 234 new cases Tuesday.
Trépanier says for those who give a saliva sample, it might take three to four days to get their results.
“We have to keep the PCR tests for people that really need them,” he said.
If you’re able to get a rapid test and you test positive, he suggests taking a second one 24 hours later before going to a testing site.
Trépanier says another way to ease some of the strain on screening centres is to send only one person from a group of people who are sick.
If several people within a single family or close circle of contacts all have similar symptoms, and one tests positive, Trépanier says it’s not necessary for all of them to get a lab test.
Tough to get tested in the Quebec City region
Quebec City’s only drop-in testing centre on Dalhousie Street in the Old Port, hit full capacity at 7:20 a.m. Tuesday, handing out slips for people to come back later in the day.
Other sites throughout the region offer testing by appointment only and the earliest time slots available were two days from now, on Dec. 24, in Quebec City, in Lévis, on Quebec City’s south shore and in Saint-Georges, about an hour’s drive east.
A spokesperson for the Chaudière-Appalaches health authority told Radio-Canada that all of Tuesday’s drop-in appointments in Lévis were spoken for within an hour and all of the rapid tests and gargle tests they had on site were given out today as well.
For the other two testing sites in the area, one in Charny, next to Lévis and one in Thetford Mines, 90 kilometres south, testing appointments weren’t available for another five days.
Eastern Townships asks public to help ease pressure on testing sites
Dr. Alain Poirier, the Eastern Townships director of public health says the six testing centres in his region have also reached full capacity.
“Our labs are lagging with the analysis of all the demand,” he said. “What we’re asking is to use [rapid] tests if you’re symptomatic … If you’re positive you can try to take an appointment in a testing centre.”
“But since it’s difficult [to get a test] anyway, you have to isolate yourself at home and advise your close contacts that they should also isolate,” Poirier said.
The Townships started distributing rapid tests in daycares and schools two weeks ago and handed them out to the general public in Granby and Sherbrooke last weekend.
But Poirier says pharmacies there are also still waiting for shipments of rapid tests.
He says people who are symptomatic and haven’t been able to get ahold of testing kits should ask their friends and family members with children in school or daycare if they have any to spare.
Like health authorities in the rest of the province, Poirier says people need to use testing sites in the Eastern Townships judiciously for the next few days.
“If we can decrease the number of people asking for a test at those screening centres, then we might be able again to accommodate some of them who do not have the rapid tests yet,” he said.