Western University epidemiologist outlines lack of supply, delay in results for COVID-19 tests

Ottawa's total number of COVID-19 cases hit 643 on Wednesday. Matthew Bingley / Global News

Western University professor and epidemiologist Greta Bauer, who herself has been waiting 11 days for the results of her COVID-19 test, is urging everyone who has any symptoms to act as though they are already infected.

“We’re not, at this point in the epidemic, going to have enough tests for everybody.”

“It’s really important that people act as though they’re infected if they have symptoms,” Bauer told Global News. “That’s true for people who can’t get tests as well as for people who are waiting for tests. At this point, we know there is community spread.”

Bauer says there are a few factors responsible for the lack of testing, most notably a global shortage of chemical reagents needed for the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing, or “the testing for viral genetic material that’s being done most commonly.”

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Public health officials are deploying resources strategically and based on the latest data, Bauer said, first testing travellers and doing contract tracing and now starting to prioritize health care workers and those in long term care facilities.

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“We’re not doing it yet [but] I think we also may need to be prioritizing grocery store, pharmacy workers, and delivery people.”

“They’re the people who we’re all going to be depending on to keep society functional, as well as people working in healthcare settings.”

Bauer, who does have symptoms but said she is not having difficulty breathing, added that she understands the frustration on a personal level as she’s on day 11 of a wait for results of her own COVID-19 test.

“I’m in self-isolation so it’s not changing my behaviour. It’s not increasing the risk of spread of the epidemic but it’s frustrating. So I acknowledge the frustration of people at not being able to get tests or at waiting for results even if they do get tests.”