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Why the wait? Kingston healthcare reps address COVID-19 test wait times

As the number of active COVID-19 cases in the Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington (KFL&A) region has reached all-time highs over the past two weeks, so too has the number of area residents seeking testing for the virus.

Residents lined up for COVID-19 testing at Kingston’s Assessment Centre, located in the Beechgrove Complex, on Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021. Photo by Penny Cadue.

As of Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021, the KFL&A region had 389 active cases of COVID-19 (this number updated later in article), once again marking a milestone of the largest active caseload during the pandemic to date. Over the 24-hour period leading up to Dec. 7, 998 COVID-19 tests were processed in the region, according to data from KFL&A Public Health. That number is substantially larger than the number regularly processed locally, and has led to a backlog in testing for COVID-19 over the past three weeks, according to Public Health and Kingston Health Sciences Centre (KHSC), the organization that oversees the operations of many Kingston hospital sites, including Kingston General Hospital (KGH) and Hotel Dieu Hospital.

KHSC said in mid-November that the uptick in testing, which began in early November in tandem with the rising COVID-19 cases locally, had risen from approximately 400 tests processed daily to more than 600. Since then, the number of tests being processed daily has jumped to approximately 750-800, according to Elizabeth Bardon, COVID-19 Incident Commander for KHSC.

On Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021, no appointments for testing were available, either at the Assessment Centre at the Beechgrove Complex or at the pop-up testing clinics, also held at Beechgrove after hours. In fact, no appointments were available at the regular Assessment Centre for Thursday, Friday, or Saturday, with appointments open for Sunday, Dec. 12 through Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2021. No appointments were available at the pop-up clinics for Wednesday, Dec. 8 through Friday, Dec. 10, with appointments there available on Saturday, Dec. 12 through Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2021.

This means that, unless there are appointments available through pharmacies, the first available COVID-19 test appointment in the Kingston area for a resident seeking one as of Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021 would be for the late morning of Saturday, Dec. 12, 2021.

And while both KHSC and KFL&A Public Health pointed at the sheer volume of those seeking testing as the reason for the backlogs, they also noted a very real and “frustrating” trend of people not showing up for scheduled testing appointments.

“We are still getting a lot of no shows,” Bardon said. “And that is extremely frustrating… Parents, for example, who are trying to get a child in who’s symptomatic quickly, they may look at the system and it shows no appointments. But yet, on every given day, we have people who made appointments, and they don’t show up.”

If residents realize they must miss a scheduled appointment, Bardon asks that they take the steps to actually cancel that appointment, so as to allow someone else to use it.

“We really need people, if they’re not coming because either the symptoms have resolved or they got an appointment elsewhere…to cancel their appointments, because it only shows up for the next person who needs it if people go in and cancel,” Bardon said, stating that, on Monday, Dec. 6, 2021, 30 people did not show up for scheduled testing appointments.

On Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021, Bardon indicated that KHSC had been working with a third-party service provider to secure the extra testing appointments for the pop-up clinics, and that those had been scheduled through to Friday of this week. KHSC would look into expanding those appointments further if needed, she said; however, it appears that decision was made within 24 hours, as pop-up clinic appointments are now taking place through Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2021.

Bardon also pointed out that the work being assumed by KHSC during the pandemic (administering and processing testing, administering vaccinations, etc.) remains fairly new work for the organization, which only took on these roles 18 months ago. Furthermore, she said, that work is on top of KHSC’s regular operations, as well as the near-capacity COVID-19 cases being handled by the hospitals.

“That’s why it’s been really helpful to be able to run these pop-up evening clinics,” Bardon said. “It means that we can add capacity without having to find more or new staff or extend people’s days, because, as you can imagine, our staff are tired.”

Still, for area parents, the lack of testing appointments has proven disruptive. Hollie Pratt-Campbell, a Kingston-based mother of two, said she has experienced – both first-hand and through the anecdotes of other parents – how the wait times for COVID-19 tests are impacting children at schools.

“On Tuesday, Nov. 23, we got a notice from my daughter’s school that someone in her class was positive for COVID-19. Following public health protocol, I immediately went online to book an appointment to get her tested at the Beechgrove Centre. They were booking up to five days in advance, but there was not a single opening – it was booked solid until Sunday, Nov. 28,” Pratt-Campbell said of her own experience, which mirrors that experienced by many area residents daily.

“We ended up driving over an hour to Kemptville to get her tested (Results came the next day and it was negative),” she continued, noting that the Assessment Centre did end up adding the pop-up clinics due to high demand, “but this was a couple of days later and they filled up really quickly, too.”

“For my daughter’s second test (they need another negative result two days before they can return to school), we ended up driving to Napanee as that’s where we could get in soonest,” said Pratt-Campbell.

While her family hasn’t needed a COVID-19 test since then, she has since discovered some alarming effects resulting from the testing wait times.

“Many people are giving up on getting tested, even though they have symptoms or are required to because of a close contact, due to the length of time they need to isolate while waiting for a test. Or they need to wait such a long time that, by the time their test day arrives, their symptoms are gone, and they assume it wasn’t COVID,” Pratt-Campbell concluded, wondering if these things could possibly be leading to spread of the virus in the area, particularly in schools.

“I wish something could be done to meet the need for testing in a timely fashion,” she expressed. “Especially now, with cases exploding in Kingston, getting tested should be quick and easy.”

Neither KHSC nor KFL&A Public Health indicated anything further was being done to create more testing availability in the near future, but Bardon indicated that there is one thing needed from every resident in the region, as the battle against the fourth wave continues: patience.

“The COVID risk right now in our region, not just Kingston, but in our region, is high. And we are all tired of COVID rules and limitations and masking, etc. And so, again, from the perspective of doing the right thing by those that we love, those who are vulnerable, and … our family and our neighbors and our co workers, the contributions that each of us can make are to get vaccinated, because that is that is the number one thing that is the most helpful in this pandemic.” Bardon added that residents must also to continue to follow public health principles such as physical distancing, keeping social activities to a minimum, avoiding crowds, and wearing a mask.

“Those are really, really important. And that will help us to drive the rates down, because we’re still seeing quite high positivity rates right now.”

Another piece of advice when it comes to booking testing? Check early, and check often, Bardon said.

“It’s not uncommon for appointments to pop up over the course of the day. So if somebody looks in the morning and they see nothing for the rest of the day, they may want to check again,” she explained, noting that there are often appointments available in Napanee when there are none in Kingston.

“And when we looked earlier today, there were still appointments available for later this week… Those who are waiting should certainly double-check for appointments throughout the day.”

Lastly, Bardon pointed out that more and more pharmacies are taking part in providing testing, with more locations locally expected to be added to the list of pharmacy test locations provided by the province. These options, she said, will hopefully help alleviate the current backlog for testing. Options for booking appointments at the Assessment Centre at Beechgrove, or through pop-up clinics, are available here.

As of 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021, KFL&A Public Health had announced 101 new cases of COVID-19 had been detected in the region over the past 24 hours, as well as the detection of the Omicron variant within the region. Additionally, two more people have passed away in the region due to COVID-19, bringing the local number of COVID-19 deaths to 14.

There are currently 434 active cases of COVID-19 in the region – yet another pandemic milestone marked – and KFL&A Public Health is currently tracking over 800 contacts.

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