Nowhere to go at COVID-19 testing sites for people who need a washroom

A steady stream of people are waiting hours for a COVID-19 swab in Winnipeg, and some just can’t hold it in.

Some individuals waiting in line at Winnipeg’s only drive-thru screening site are relieving themselves beside their vehicles and in back alleys, a neighbour near the North End location said. 

“Nobody wants their yard used as a porta-potty,” Gladys Carson said.

Carson has seen it for herself. She took a video last month when nature was calling for one individual.

Her brothers shouted at people who’ve chosen to squat in their back lane, a block west of the test site behind Charles Street, she said. 

Earlier on Monday, Carson opened the door of her home to an elderly gentleman from the line who asked to use the facilities. 

Gladys Carson said there must be some kind of washroom facilities for people waiting in line at the COVID-19 screening site in her neighbourhood. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

“If they’re going to continue this [testing site], they have to put in porta-potties,” she said. “People shouldn’t have to sit in line that long without a bathroom facility.”

In Winnipeg, there’s one drive-thru in the North End on Main Street and three other COVID-19 sampling sites. Reported cases are rising — especially in the city — and a bottleneck has formed at some sites that’s left people waiting several hours for a test.

The lack of washroom facilities hasn’t garnered much attention, but people in the St. John’s neighbourhood say it’s disturbing.

“They’re not going to really do it in the car, right?” said Bob Groves, referring to the limited options of people who need a washroom. “They have to do it somewhere.” 

Buying diapers

In the event Neil Fast Sr. needed a COVID-19 test, he said it’s virtually impossible he could stay in his vehicle for more than four hours.

His great-granddaughter couldn’t do it either, he said. Last week, the eight-year-old needed the washroom but her family didn’t want to lose their place in the testing queue, so a relative drove over and dropped off some diapers. 

A back alley in Winnipeg’s St. John’s neighbourhood leading to a Manitoba Public Insurance service centre that’s been turned into a testing bay in Winnipeg for COVID-19. People have been using the alley to relieve themselves since there are no bathroom facilities. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

Fast Sr. is annoyed by that exercise. 

“We’ve got all these intelligent people organizing all of these [testing sites], and they don’t even think about all these people standing in line for two, three, four, five hours,” he said. “There’s no washrooms available for any of them.”

The province did not immediately respond to a question Monday night regarding the dearth of washrooms.

New Winnipeg site coming

People have been instructed to stay in their vehicles at any of Manitoba’s drive-thru sites, before and during the test, to try and limit the spread of the virus. 

Shorter lineups would at least partially alleviate the need for washrooms. Health Minister Cameron Friesen said at the COVID-19 briefing on Monday that an additional testing site in Winnipeg would open later this week.

John Jackson, a railway worker, estimated the lineup at the North End testing bay was probably a kilometre long, counting the cars wrapped along Main, Charles and Mountain Avenue.

“I took one look at that, I went, ‘It’s going to be hours, and that’s if I get tested,'” Jackson told CBC Up to Speed guest host Emily Brass on Monday.

He planned to return Tuesday at 6 a.m., he said — three hours before the site, a converted Manitoba Public Insurance service centre, is scheduled to open.

People being turned away

Sonia Vernie was facing a headache, body aches, sore throat and fatigue when she was tested for COVID-19 at the site nearly a week ago.

She wanted to lie down, but couldn’t. She had to stay awake as her vehicle slowly crept forward for more than five hours.

“What really bugs me was the fact that I got there five minutes after opening. If somebody couldn’t get there until 9:30 [a.m.], they might not have been able to get tested that day,” she said.

Like others, Vernie wants the city to open new testing sites, and extend hours at existing locations. Opposition political parties have slammed the long lines as inexcusable, saying the Progressive Conservative government should have known cases would likely spike in the fall, and the need for testing intensified. 

Sheldon Gale wouldn’t mind if there were other lineups to relieve the pressure on the drive-thru location on Main, but he said all the vehicles signify a community that’s caring.

“It shows people care and want to get tested,” he said. “If there wasn’t a big lineup of cars every day, I think then you should be worried that people don’t care anymore.” 

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