There is at least one group losing out in the record number of daily COVID-19 tests B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced on Thursday: British Columbians without symptoms who require proof of a negative test.
Travel clinics that charge anywhere from $200 to more than $400 to provide the tests and send them to private labs for processing reported an exponential rise in the waiting time for results that began over the weekend.
“It’s an enormous emotional and financial stress,” said Penny Gleave, a registered nurse who owns the TravelSafe Immunization Clinic on West Broadway in Vancouver.
“We’ve had people in tears in our clinic,” Gleave said. “There’s nothing we can do.”
TravelSafe has an advisory on its website that warns clients test results are taking seven days or longer.
A person who answered the phone at YVR Medical Clinic, run by Ultima Medical Services, told CTV News what had been a 48-to-72-hour wait time for results had mushroomed to at least six days.
They added the clinic was “fully booked” for October testing appointments and said they weren’t sure about November.
Kevin Chang, who splits his time between Vancouver and Japan, where his wife lives full time, said he was surprised when he had his appointment cancelled.
He now plans to fly to Saskatchewan to get a test, he said, which Japan requires within 72 hours of departure.
“I quickly found out everything (in BC) is done by one organization,” he said.
TravelSafe and other travel clinics in Metro Vancouver rely on a private lab company called LifeLabs, which also processes tests for B.C.’s public health systems.
Tests on those who show symptoms and people who need to be tested because of possible exposures take priority.
“(LifeLabs) have had some challenges in keeping up with our need in the public system,” Henry acknowledged on Thursday.
“I know they and our lab system are working on how we can do that better to support people … particularly people who need to travel or need to have medical procedures done,” Henry added.
In response to a story Wednesday about B.C. TV and film productions being put on hold because of processing delays for private tests, LifeLabs told CTV News it expects to return to “standard turnaround times” by the end of the week.
“We are making additional investments to expand our testing capacity,” the company said in statement. “Testing specimens to support public health efforts to control the pandemic continues to be LifeLabs’ priority.”
Henry did not directly answer a question on whether B.C. should be relying on a single private processor to boost public health testing capacity, a fact Chang said surprised him.
“Just coming from a risk perspective and a competitive perspective, and just for public service, you would think you should have contingences and other options,” Chang said.
The B.C. government is now implementing a plan that could double daily testing capacity across the province to 20,000 by the end of October.
In Alberta, some pharmacies can test asymptomatic people who may require proof of a negative test, for essential travel or other reasons.
A London Drugs location in Edmonton told CTV News processing time was two to seven days, while one in Calgary gave a range of five to six days.
Ontario launched asymptomatic testing at 60 pharmacies last week, including for people hoping to visit family members in long-term care.
CTV News had trouble getting through on the phone to many of the locations.
A Shoppers Drug Mart in Toronto and another in Ottawa said processing times for COVID-19 tests were “at least” five days, but one pharmacist said it was “hard to say” and felt like times were increasing every day.
Back in Vancouver, Penny Gleave with TravelSafe expressed frustration over the uncertainty for her business.
“Wednesday, it’s five days, then next day it’s seven or more,” Gleave said.
And Chang said while he respected the priority for test processing should go to the public system, he wishes there were more options for people like him and more certainty.
As to whether he’ll make it Japan next week to reunite with his family?
“I don’t feel very confident,” he said.