The Saskatchewan Health Authority says while it’s increasing testing capacity at the Evraz Place drive-thru, the majority of people in Regina who call 811 can no longer book appointments for COVID-19 tests.
Last week, the drive-thru testing site at Evraz Place saw wait times of up to five hours as variant cases of COVID-19 surged in the city.
On Thursday, the SHA announced extended hours to ramp up its testing capacity as it called the wait times unacceptable.
At the time, SHA CEO Scott Livingstone said when calling 811 fewer people were going to be referred to drive-thru testing to help improve those wait times.
“We will be using a different script in Regina so we aren’t going to be referring as many folks directly to testing at the drive-thru. We will actually divert as much as we can to the clinic-based tests, just to help mitigate some of the times at the drive-thru centre,” Livingstone said.
While those wait times have come down, the SHA now says it is no longer considering this option, saying the drive-thru is best equipped to handle the increased demand.
The SHA says booked testing appointments are reserved for those who do not have access to a vehicle, who are significantly unwell, or who are deemed urgent as directed by COVID communicable disease team.
“In other communities booked testing appointments may continue to be available for other clients, so we would encourage you to check with 811 if you are wishing to book a test outside of Regina,” the SHA said in a statement.
“Our drive-through is a very safe environment for all clients to come and be tested including those who are symptomatic. The drive-through is also the location that is best prepared to manage this large demand for testing. This is also the fastest way for anyone to receive a test.”
Over the weekend, the SHA said wait times were near one hour or less, although it did see periods where drivers waited up to three hours.
Epidemiologist Dr. Nazeem Muhajarine says very few people can afford to wait that long in a drive-thru.
“Testing is is one of the basic fundamental tools that we have to control the pandemic,” Muhajarine said. “We have to do testing quickly, efficiently and effectively.”
With a system stretched to its limits and variants spreading south, Muhajarine says more bodied are needed and rapid tests have to be used.
“We have been talking about rapid testing for at least eight to 10 months,” he said. “We knew this is where we will be heading if things were not done quickly and decisively and completely.”
As of March 23, the SHA said 40,287 rapid tests have been used in acute care, long-term care facilities and provincial correctional facilities, out of the 823,136 tests provided by the federal government.
The SHA is also looking at introducing pop-up clinics around the city with point-of-care testing equipment to further expand capacity.