When Alex Dombroski came down with flu-like symptoms last month, she called Island Health’s testing call centre and booked a COVID-19 test.
“And then I was like, I have no way of getting there,” she said.
Dombroski usually walks or takes transit to get around, and she doesn’t have a car or a bike. With a fever of nearly 39 C, she was wheezing and feeling weak. She didn’t feel capable of the 90-minute round-trip walk to Victoria’s Cook Street testing centre. So, she called 811 and asked what she should do.
Dombroski said she was told to find someone who could give her a ride or stay home and self-isolate for two weeks as if she’d received a positive test.
As a server, Dombroski can’t work from home and doesn’t have paid sick days. Every taxi company she called refused to take her, and she knew she couldn’t risk exposing a bus full of people. She didn’t want to stay home and off work for two weeks if she didn’t have COVID-19.
“I remember being just incredibly frustrated that I was trying to do what was right and what was asked of you by getting this COVID test,” she said.
Dombroski’s co-worker agreed to drive her to the testing centre, and they drove with the windows down, masks on. Dombroski sanitized everything she touched. Still, she felt guilty asking her co-worker for a ride with the symptoms she was experiencing.
“I don’t feel great exposing my co-worker and then like, if it was positive, I’ve now exposed my whole workplace,” she said.
Her test came back negative, and she stayed home until her flu symptoms finished, missing five days of work instead of two weeks.
She thinks she caught the flu from her roommate, who was also too sick to walk to the testing centre. Dombroski’s co-worker had never met the roommate and didn’t feel comfortable taking both to get tested. They figured if Dombroski’s test was negative and she had caught her sickness from him, he must have been negative, too.
Dombroski said it was “a nightmare” figuring out how to get her appointment, and she knows she is not the only one who might struggle to get to a testing centre.
“I know tons of people who don’t have cars, and most of those people who don’t have cars are people who are like me and are working in customer service or working closely with people, and to put them in a position of just having to stay home for two weeks or, you know, expose somebody else to be able to get tested is not fair,” Dombroski said.
According to a 2017 Capital Regional District transportation survey, just over 10 per cent of households in the capital region do not have a motor vehicle. The survey involved 7,159 households in the CRD, the Juan de Fuca electoral area and Salt Spring Island.
Island Health said those who aren’t able to drive, cycle or walk to a testing appointment are encouraged to ask a family member, friend or neighbour for a ride. The symptomatic person should ride in the back seat with windows open, and everyone should wear a mask and wash their hands before the drive.
Island Health also suggested trying to book a taxi. There may be a possibility for mobile testing in extreme cases, but it’s unclear what criteria would need to be met.
Bluebird Cabs, which serves Greater Victoria, is taking customers to testing centres in vehicles that are outfitted with partitions that separate the driver in the front seat from passengers in the back. About 40 per cent of the fleet has partitions, said general manager Haemant Sawh.
Sawh estimates they receive on average of four or five calls a day from people trying to book a ride for a testing appointment.
“It’s unfortunately a service that needs to be provided right now,” he said.
Passengers and drivers have to wear masks. Drivers sanitize the vehicle before picking up the passenger and after dropping them off.
Call-takers ask about a person’s symptoms before booking a ride, but they don’t have criteria for refusing a ride, said Sawh, who wasn’t aware of any callers admitting to having a severe fever or other COVID-19 symptoms. “We’re kind of relying on the public being upfront with us.”
There are 23 testing sites in Island Health, including two in Victoria, one in the West Shore and one in Nanaimo.