Saskatoon drive-thru testing centre struggles to meet spike in demand

A sudden influx in demand for COVID-19 tests in Saskatoon is resulting in long lineups at the testing centre on Thatcher Avenue near SaskTel Centre.

“Our wait times are sitting at over three hours in some cases,” said Carrie Dornstauder, interim testing chief with the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA).

“A lot of that is due to sudden influx, something we didn’t see in July and August and some of it is due to lack of staffing both regularly available and some immediate short-term sick calls.”

On Tuesday the drive-thru testing centre in Saskatoon closed three-and-a-half hours earlier than its 7:30 p.m. closing time because it had reached capacity.

On July 19, the SHA scaled back its hours of operation to match the demand for testing, Dornstauder said.

The testing centre now runs from 12 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Monday to Friday and 8:30 a.m., to 4:30 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.

The change in hours allowed healthcare staff to return to their regular positions, Dornstauder said.

“A lot of staff were returned to regular work and we saw people moving away from temporary and casual positions making it tough for us to recruit so there’s a variety of complexities,” she said.

“August 23rd was our biggest testing day in a while and it was four times the amount of people we saw back in July.”

The SHA said it aims for a 90-minute turnaround time. Dornstauder said the SHA is meeting that target in Regina, but not in Saskatoon.

Staffing fatigue is the number one concern and the inability to staff is the second challenge, she said.

On Wednesday another long line of cars stood idled along Thatcher Avenue. People who spoke to CTV News said they expected a four-hour wait but after two hours they were nearly at the front of the line. Drivers reported lining up at 12:30 p.m., only half an hour after the testing site opened, and already encountering the two-hour wait to get tested.

The drive-thru testing centre in Prince Albert had to close early on Wednesday because it reached its daily capacity.

The testing centre at the Cone Shop Car Wash will reopen Thursday at 8:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m.

On Wednesday Saskatoon added 43 new cases of COVID-19 bringing the city’s total active case number to 735.

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