Ramping up Manitoba’s COVID-19 testing capacity may not be as easy this time: Health Minister

WINNIPEG — Manitoba’s top doctor and the provincial health minister say the province is working to increase testing capacity as some Winnipeggers have been waiting hours to get a test, but it may not be as easy to ramp up testing as it was when COVID first struck the province.

The province said 1,803 tests were completed on Wednesday, bringing the total number of lab tests done since early February to 186,668.

Dr. Brent Roussin, the chief provincial public health officer, said there is about a 56-hour turnaround time on test results.

But for many in Winnipeg, the problem is not getting the results – it is getting the actual test. CTV News has previously reported that some Manitobans looking for testing have been turned away from sites that have reached capacity early in the day.

Others have waited for more than four hours in line-ups that stretch eight blocks long. With the prospect of an hours-long wait, and the possibility of being turned away, some have set their sights outside the Perimeter Highway.

CTV News has reported the City of Selkirk has seen more people from Winnipeg coming for a test due to the shorter wait times.

“No one is going to say it is acceptable to have these long waitlists and we are going to continue to address that,” said Roussin.

“We are getting a lot of tests done. If you look at our testing numbers, we are getting a lot of testing right now in Winnipeg and in Manitoba,” he said. “We are getting a lot of tests done, and we absolutely want to improve it.”

The province has contracted Dynacare to open new sites across the province, including a mobile testing site which opened in Winnipeg on Wednesday.

READ MORE: New Dynacare sites coming to Winnipeg to cut down on lineups

Manitoba’s Health Minister Cameron Friesen said the mobile site saw 75 people in total for its first day. Roussin said there are plans to ‘dramatically’ increase the capacity of the site.

Friesen said more mobile testing sites will be up and running in Winnipeg “over the coming weeks.”

Dynacare previously told CTV News it will be adding two temporary pop-up specimen collection sites in the city, along with three new permanent supersite locations, which will be opening this fall through to the winter of 2021.

RAMPING UP TESTING NOT AS EASY AS IT WAS WHEN PANDEMIC STARTED

When the pandemic first hit the province, health officials redirected health care staff to work at temporary testing sites across the province in an effort to keep up with the demand for testing.

Roussin said the province was completing 300 to 400 tests a day, which was an improvement for the province at the time. Now daily tests are nearing 2,000, yet line ups remain at many sites in the city.

Friesen said it won’t be as easy to ramp up testing capacity as it had been before.

“At the time we were also closing down our normal hospital functions, so we were able to redeploy massive workforce to new things,” he said, adding, now with many hospital functions back up and running, that workforce can’t be redeployed like it was in April.

“Even though we saw lower numbers in the summer to COVID, the health care system was working overtime trying to catch up on all of the diagnostic imaging, the surgeries that are left there,” Roussin said.

Friesen said the province is looking to ‘borrow’ healthcare staff to work at screening sites to help increase capacity and reduce wait times.

“We are very, very interested in hiring public sector workers,” he said, adding he has been talking with nursing associations to see if any retired nurses want to come help with testing.

Public Health said only people with COVID-19 symptoms should go for testing. 

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