As COVID-19 cases climb demand grows for testing in Manitoba

WINNIPEG –

Demand for COVID-19 testing remained high Tuesday with one site reaching capacity hours before it was scheduled to close.

At around 3:30 p.m. police started directing traffic away from the Nairn Ave. testing site.

The province is moving to ease the backlog by handing out free take-home rapid tests at some sites instead of administering a PCR test but some are wondering why they’re not being made more widely available at stores or pharmacies like some other provinces are doing.

“I mean that would make things so much easier and it would really cut down the time for the people who actually need to be in line versus the people who need to be taking it at home,” said Jill Lauze, who waited in line for hours for a COVID-19 test at the Nairn Ave. site.

“It is what it is, it’s the new normal I guess but it would be nice if we could speed this up a little bit,” Lauze said.

The Manitoba government announced Monday it’s trying to speed things up by giving out rapid tests to most fully vaccinated people with symptoms who show up for testing.

If the test comes back positive, the province said people will be asked to return to confirm the result with a PCR test.

“I expect to be getting a rapid test today,” Lauze said, noting she’s fully vaccinated and sought out a test because she was symptomatic and a close contact.

The province has said the centralized delivery at testing sites to control the supply of rapid tests would be incrementally introduced at four sites including the one on Nairn Ave. but it was unclear Tuesday if the site had started giving them out.

Dr. Philippe Lagacé-Wiens, a medical microbiologist at St. Boniface Hospital, said those tests alone are only one tool, warning the omicron variant seems to replicate faster in people’s airways.

“And so it seems that things can change very quickly, within hours, literally, you could go from a negative to a positive test so you really do need to trust a combination of things; how much disease there is around, do you have symptoms,” said Lagacé-Wiens.

He used his own experience as an example; Lagacé-Wiens, who’s triple vaccinated, tested negative on a rapid test Sunday morning.

He retested himself using the same brand of rapid test later that afternoon and got a positive result, which was confirmed with a PCR test.

“We cannot, especially if you have symptoms, trust a single negative result with these rapid tests and say, ‘oh it’s probably something else,’” Lagacé-Wiens said.

Meantime, demand to find rapid tests outside testing sites continues to grow with some businesses getting involved. The owner of Food Fare on Lilac St. said he’s faced online backlash after sourcing 25 kits containing 25 tests each and selling them for $400 per kit.

Husni Zeid declined an on camera interview but he told CTV News by phone the store made no more than $40 off the sale of each kit and is now all sold out.

The province didn’t immediately respond to questions regarding its current supply of rapid tests, the private sale of rapid tests or whether the Nairn Ave. site has started handing them out.

Officials have said in addition to schools, the tests are also being made available to clients through some social services offices. And some tests are being distributed to people living with a disability.

Rapid tests won’t be given to everyone who shows up at one of the four sites for testing. The province has said unvaccinated people with symptoms will still get a PCR test. 

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