N.B. COVID-19 testing backlog in the thousands amid continued surge in cases

Click to play video: 'N.B. experiencing COVID-19 testing backlog' N.B. experiencing COVID-19 testing backlog
WATCH: There are more than 3,000 requests for PCR testing between three zones. The province’s top doctor is attributing it to a surge in cases over the holiday break. Nathalie Sturgeon has more – Dec 29, 2021

New Brunswick’s top doctor says the more than 3,000 requests for PCR testing sitting in a backlog is the combination of the holiday break, the surge in COVID-19 cases that came before it and the Omicron wave the province is just beginning to see.

“We have seen backlogs with surges in the past so it’s not, again, a big surprise that you have a surge and an increase in demand and then you have a backlog,” Dr. Jennifer Russell said in an interview Wednesday.

“So, that has been a pattern that we’ve seen. It’s not uncommon. However, this time it’s different in the sense that you know it fell over the Christmas period and we were already in a bit of a surge with Delta and now we’re seeing Omicron.”

Russell said the key indicator remains hospitalizations and the strain on those resources. She said the majority of hospitalized cases are Delta and not the new more transmissible variant called Omicron.

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On Monday, the province announced the assessment centres in some zones were experiencing a backlog of requests. The centres were closed on Christmas day.

Zone 2 had a backlog of 2,100 requests for full PCR testing on Dec. 27. The Fredericton region had a backlog of 640 requests.

The following day, the backlog grew by adding another zone with testing requests.

The Saint John region remained at 2,100, the Fredericton region was reduced to 545 requests, and Zone 1 or the Moncton region had 500 requests.

Public Health said in the release that it was prioritizing Public Health referrals, health-care workers and those who work or live in vulnerable settings (such as long-term care) within 48 hours in the Saint John region. That timeframe for that category was 24 hours for the Moncton and Fredericton regions.

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“The next priorities are any symptomatic individuals as well as those who test positive on a point-of-care test. These people are being booked for a test within 144 hours,” the release said of the Saint John region.

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It was 72 hours and 48 hours for the Fredericton and Moncton regions, respectively, for those who were symptomatic or had a positive rapid test but were not considered a priority group.

On Wednesday, the backlog remained significant with some progress being made in Zone 1.

The Saint John region backlog increased to 2,500 and the backlog in the Fredericton went down to 450.

Click to play video: 'More provinces impose new COVID-19 restrictions amid Omicron surge' More provinces impose new COVID-19 restrictions amid Omicron surge
More provinces impose new COVID-19 restrictions amid Omicron surge – Dec 27, 2021

Russell gave assurances the backlog would be handled.

“There also has been a testing backlog with respect to PCR tests, however, we’re going to catch up with that backlog and even when we’re in the midst of dealing with a backlog, we always prioritize the highest level in terms of risk making sure those tests are done within 24 hours,” she said.

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Case numbers, on most days, are shattering previously set records. On Tuesday, the province surpassed 2,000 active cases for the first time since the pandemic began.

Russell did not directly address a question about whether it was fair to say the government didn’t know the full scope of the pandemic with the backlog becoming so large.

“I think we have to become very aware of our limitations of our health-care system and the human resources aspect of the health-care system, and so there are a lot of discussions with the regional health authorities, with social development, around making sure that we can maximize the human resources required right now to deal with this particular wave of Omicron that we’re faced with right now,” she said in an interview.

The province moved to Level 2 of its Winter Action Plan on Monday, which lowered the number of steady close contacts, on Wednesday, Russell encouraged people to try to make it smaller.

Russell said it is also important people take any positive results on a rapid test seriously and isolation begins the minute you test positive — no matter what subsequent rapid tests might indicate.

Anyone who tests positive on a rapid test in the province must seek a confirmatory PCR test.

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