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Mom says testing delays amid surging demand could lead to COVID spread

A Saanich mother says it took more than two days to get her four-year-old son tested for COVID-19, which shows the province should have better planned for demand as kids returned to school during the fourth wave of the pandemic.
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Lucas de Lima, 4, and his mother Lindsay Dixon leave the COVID testing site on Dunedin Street on Wednesday. ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST

A Saanich mother says it took more than two days to get her four-year-old son tested for COVID-19, which shows the province should have better planned for demand as kids returned to school during the fourth wave of the pandemic.

“I’m probably one of many parents who are sitting at home right now who are unable to work, their children are unable to go to school, because of a delay in testing,” said Lindsay Dixon, a pharmacist who also has an eight-year-old.

Dixon said she is concerned about others who can’t or won’t isolate during that waiting period. “What about the parents who can’t just take time off work and say: ‘Well, it’s just a cold — let’s just send our kids to school anyway,’ right?”

Demand for COVID-19 testing for children has increased to 500 tests a day from 100 across the province in recent weeks, said provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry. The positive rate from those tests has stayed low or even decreased, except in children age five to 11, where positives have spiked to five to 10 per cent. No vaccine has yet been approved in Canada for children under 12.

Island Health said it aims to test people for COVID within 24 hours, but “we are experiencing our highest call volumes and there are intense pressures on all aspects of our health care system right now.” The health authority said it is working on addressing the issue.

On Sunday, Dixon’s son had a runny nose, cough and upset stomach. When his symptoms had not abated by Monday, Dixon kept him home from school, took the day off work, reviewed the COVID-19 symptom checker online, and tried to book a COVID test.

She was told Wednesday was the earliest date she could get a test, and was sent to the drive-through testing facility at the ICBC Centre at 425 Dunedin St. The results would take 12 to 48 hours, she was told, although she ended up getting the result — negative — in six hours.

Eighteen months into the pandemic, with new COVID daily case counts climbing, an increased demand for testing is something health authorities should have predicted and planned for, said Dixon, who is vaccinated. “So I was quite shocked and the lady who is working at the call centre, she said: ‘Oh we are just swamped.’ ”

She said she sends her children to school and preschool masked, and would like to see schools have access to rapid tests.

During the fourth wave, Island Health has averaged 1,145 tests per day based on a seven-day average from Sept. 20-26. That’s far more than during the third wave, when the health authority averaged 664 tests per day based on a seven-day average from April 5-11.

Last week, Island Health responded to demand by opening the Victoria Conference Centre at 720 Douglas St. as a second Greater Victoria testing site, and it said it’s scouting other locations to bolster capacity. The health authority said it has extended the hours of some testing and collection sites to increase capacity.

Besides the two locations in Victoria, the south Island has three other testing sites: Peninsula Health Unit on Mt. Newton Cross Road, Lady Minto Hospital on Salt Spring Island and JDF Senior Citizens Association at 1767 Island Hwy. Appointments can be booked by phone at 1-844-901-8442 any time from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. There are no drop-in slots.

The province reported 813 new COVID cases on Wednesday, including 82 in the Island Health region, where the number of active cases hit 704. Of those, 31 are hospitalized, including 17 in intensive care.

There were 11 new deaths — including three in Island Health — for a total of 1,953 to date.

ceharnett@timescolonist.com