At-home COVID-19 test system endorsed by feds won’t let rural Saskatchewan family register

Click to play video: 'At-home COVID test system endorsed by feds won’t let rural Sask. family register'
At-home COVID test system endorsed by feds won’t let rural Sask. family register
WATCH: A family living in rural Saskatchewan can't sign up with the company endorsed by the federal government to handle at-home coronavirus testing for people who've travelled – Mar 2, 2021

After travelling to the U.S. in hopes of getting their daughter treatment for her rare disease, a Saskatchewan family is in indefinite quarantine because the at-home COVID-19 testing system for people driving across the border can’t process their rural address.

“I feel like we’re going to be quarantining until a courier decides that they’re going to start doing rural Saskatchewan.”

Janie McNichol and her husband took their 15-year-old daughter, who has an untreatable form of muscular dystrophy, to Richmond, Va., to continue the study and drug trial that she began before the onset of COVID-19.

“We felt it in the best interest for her,” McNichol said, adding that while the family believes the travel is essential, the federal government does not necessarily see drug trials the same way in the pandemic.

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After three weeks away following coronavirus protocols — including producing a negative test result before trying to return to Canada — the family crossed back into Saskatchewan from North Dakota on Saturday morning. They went straight home to their farm, located about 18 km outside of Nokomis, a town about halfway between Regina and Saskatoon.

McNichol said she tried to register the at-home COVID-19 test kits with which border services provided the family, along with instructions that each person do one that day as well as 10 days later.

“In the beginning, it wouldn’t even take our address to even sign up,” McNichol said. “I phone in and they told me, ‘Just give it some time.’ They’re having a glitch in the system with addresses.”

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By Tuesday, she said she’d called the Toronto-based company, Switch Health, handling the at-home land border testing system at least six times. She remained unable to complete the process and at that point had been home for four days.

The system keeps asking her for a civic address, she said, and the family doesn’t have one. Her farm’s only identifier is the land location. Their road doesn’t even have a name.

Click to play video: 'Coronavirus: New land border restrictions require testing for passenger entering Canada'
Coronavirus: New land border restrictions require testing for passenger entering Canada

In an email statement, Switch Health told Global News that it is receiving a high volume of calls. The company said it is “working quickly and diligently to improve overall access in all regions of Canada and will continue to find innovative solutions so that patients can get their test results without further delay.”

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Switch Health added there have been cases where its courier partners could not pick up at certain destinations and that the company has dispatched “third-party logistical providers to these areas to help.”

McNichol said she contacted both the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) and Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) for direction and was deferred back to the company.

Global News received a similar response upon reaching out to CBSA and PHAC. Neither directly answered a question about what the family should do in their case.

“For privacy reasons, the Public Health Agency of Canada does not comment on individual situations and specific cases,” PHAC said in an email, noting that Switch Health’s kits “contain everything you need to know” and that further questions related to the process should be asked of the company.

McNichol said she’ll keep trying to get through to the company to find a way around her address issue, but is frustrated that she wasn’t forewarned.

“How does the border not know that something’s going on with these and that couriers are not picking up at these land locations?” she wants to know.

Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities (SARM) president Ray Orb said that civic addressing is an ongoing problem in the province and that 194 of the 296 rural municipalities are at various stages of naming roads and assigning numbers to people’s properties.

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While Orb doesn’t know how many still don’t have civic addresses, he estimates “the majority by far” are without them.

He said the situation facing the McNichols is concerning and “even more reason to speed the process up.”

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