Still waiting for your COVID lab test results? You’re far from alone

News Jan 13, 2022 by May Warren Toronto Star

Tens of thousands of Ontarians are still waiting for COVID lab test results as the province faces a huge backlog at levels not seen during previous pandemic waves.

As of Thursday, there were almost 80,000 Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR tests) still under investigation, meaning the results haven’t been returned to individuals, according to provincial data, with about 59,000 tests processed the previous day.

The seven-day average for backlogged tests is over 94,000, even though the average for completed tests is about 52,500.

“The system is clearly not working, period,” said Ahmed Al-Jaishi, a London, Ont.-based epidemiologist, on what the backlog shows.

Al-Jaishi, who has been tracking pending cases throughout the pandemic from the provincial numbers, said they were under 20,000 for most of the fall, but then “skyrocketed,” with Omicron’s arrival in December.

On New Year’s Eve, the eligibility for free PCR tests in the province changed. Now only people in high-risk settings, like health-care workers and individuals in long-term-care homes and hospitals, can get them.

They’re also the only cases that public health units are doing contact tracing for, reaching out and trying to stop a chain of transmission by calling people who were exposed.

Everyone else can either pay for a private test, which can go for hundreds of dollars, or assume they have COVID if they have symptoms, and isolate for five days.

If symptoms are improving after that, they can go back to work or school.

“I think the backlog is even more important when you’re focused on high-risk settings,” said Al-Jaishi.

“It’s also important from a contact-tracing perspective.”

Contact tracing, he added, has “collapsed because most public health units have too many people they have to follow.”

“It’s mission impossible on steroids, because of what’s happening with the Omicron surge.”

In Toronto, for example, according to the city’s COVID dashboard’s seven-day average, only 67 per cent of tests are turned around within 48 hours.

Looking at the seven-day average for the PCR test backlog, the highest point was early this week, at over 98,000. Since then it has fallen slightly, but it’s still higher than it has been throughout the pandemic.

The previous high was in early October 2020, with just over 76,000.

It’s not clear how many of the tests in the record backlog are for higher-risk people under the new requirements, and how many are for people still waiting for tests that don’t matter much anymore as it’s been over 10 days and their symptoms have improved.

A spokesperson for Ontario Health said in an emailed statement that they were “unable to confirm when the tests awaiting processing were originally taken.”

They added that, “various factors can contribute to the number of tests in the queue across the lab network at any given time, including increased demand for testing driven by increasing Omicron infection rates and health human resource pressures.”

The higher infection rates have led to staff shortages, and they’re “exploring opportunities for additional labs to support provincial testing.” This includes reinstating a program that was launched in 2020 to train science graduates to work in COVID testing labs.

In response to a social media call-out from the Star, dozens of people responded that they are still waiting for PCR test results from over the holidays.

Max Farber was lucky to get a test on Jan. 1, just as the change in eligibility was being implemented. He started to have symptoms on New Year’s Eve.

The 28-year-old, who is double-vaccinated, still hadn’t received a result as of Thursday, but after almost two weeks, and with his symptoms resolved, he wonders what the point is now in processing the test.

“People are just desperate for tests but the system is just completely screwed so now really … even if I get my test results back it doesn’t mean anything to me because I’m back to normal,” he said.

“At this point I honestly don’t expect to get my results, maybe in March I’ll get an email.”

The Omicron surge is now delaying not only COVID tests, but putting pressure on the entire lab-test system, said Michelle Hoad, CEO of Medical Laboratory Professionals’ Association of Ontario, which represents lab workers in the province.

They’ve got the instruments to run thousands of tests, “but the problem is we don’t have the people to do it,” she said.

“One-hundred per cent there are mistakes being made and that’s just because of the number of tests coming in right now.”

Some staff are off sick with Omicron, Hoad said, and students who would have done internships are also not working at labs right now because they’re too overwhelmed to take them on. Her organization has also called for the government to make long-term investments in lab staff.

A recent survey they did found almost 90 per cent of respondents reported staffing shortages because of Omicron.

She has also heard anecdotally about long lineups for unrelated blood tests because of the strain on the entire system.

“It’s a tough place right now in our labs,” she added.

You don’t want regular tests to be affected, with regards to turnaround times because now we’re talking about just tracking health day to day, which is concerning.”

Graphic by Cameron Tulk

May Warren is a Toronto-based breaking news reporter for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @maywarren11

Still waiting for your COVID lab test results? You’re far from alone

News Jan 13, 2022 by May Warren Toronto Star

Tens of thousands of Ontarians are still waiting for COVID lab test results as the province faces a huge backlog at levels not seen during previous pandemic waves.

As of Thursday, there were almost 80,000 Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR tests) still under investigation, meaning the results haven’t been returned to individuals, according to provincial data, with about 59,000 tests processed the previous day.

The seven-day average for backlogged tests is over 94,000, even though the average for completed tests is about 52,500.

“The system is clearly not working, period,” said Ahmed Al-Jaishi, a London, Ont.-based epidemiologist, on what the backlog shows.

Al-Jaishi, who has been tracking pending cases throughout the pandemic from the provincial numbers, said they were under 20,000 for most of the fall, but then “skyrocketed,” with Omicron’s arrival in December.

On New Year’s Eve, the eligibility for free PCR tests in the province changed. Now only people in high-risk settings, like health-care workers and individuals in long-term-care homes and hospitals, can get them.

They’re also the only cases that public health units are doing contact tracing for, reaching out and trying to stop a chain of transmission by calling people who were exposed.

Everyone else can either pay for a private test, which can go for hundreds of dollars, or assume they have COVID if they have symptoms, and isolate for five days.

If symptoms are improving after that, they can go back to work or school.

“I think the backlog is even more important when you’re focused on high-risk settings,” said Al-Jaishi.

“It’s also important from a contact-tracing perspective.”

Contact tracing, he added, has “collapsed because most public health units have too many people they have to follow.”

“It’s mission impossible on steroids, because of what’s happening with the Omicron surge.”

In Toronto, for example, according to the city’s COVID dashboard’s seven-day average, only 67 per cent of tests are turned around within 48 hours.

Looking at the seven-day average for the PCR test backlog, the highest point was early this week, at over 98,000. Since then it has fallen slightly, but it’s still higher than it has been throughout the pandemic.

The previous high was in early October 2020, with just over 76,000.

It’s not clear how many of the tests in the record backlog are for higher-risk people under the new requirements, and how many are for people still waiting for tests that don’t matter much anymore as it’s been over 10 days and their symptoms have improved.

A spokesperson for Ontario Health said in an emailed statement that they were “unable to confirm when the tests awaiting processing were originally taken.”

They added that, “various factors can contribute to the number of tests in the queue across the lab network at any given time, including increased demand for testing driven by increasing Omicron infection rates and health human resource pressures.”

The higher infection rates have led to staff shortages, and they’re “exploring opportunities for additional labs to support provincial testing.” This includes reinstating a program that was launched in 2020 to train science graduates to work in COVID testing labs.

In response to a social media call-out from the Star, dozens of people responded that they are still waiting for PCR test results from over the holidays.

Max Farber was lucky to get a test on Jan. 1, just as the change in eligibility was being implemented. He started to have symptoms on New Year’s Eve.

The 28-year-old, who is double-vaccinated, still hadn’t received a result as of Thursday, but after almost two weeks, and with his symptoms resolved, he wonders what the point is now in processing the test.

“People are just desperate for tests but the system is just completely screwed so now really … even if I get my test results back it doesn’t mean anything to me because I’m back to normal,” he said.

“At this point I honestly don’t expect to get my results, maybe in March I’ll get an email.”

The Omicron surge is now delaying not only COVID tests, but putting pressure on the entire lab-test system, said Michelle Hoad, CEO of Medical Laboratory Professionals’ Association of Ontario, which represents lab workers in the province.

They’ve got the instruments to run thousands of tests, “but the problem is we don’t have the people to do it,” she said.

“One-hundred per cent there are mistakes being made and that’s just because of the number of tests coming in right now.”

Some staff are off sick with Omicron, Hoad said, and students who would have done internships are also not working at labs right now because they’re too overwhelmed to take them on. Her organization has also called for the government to make long-term investments in lab staff.

A recent survey they did found almost 90 per cent of respondents reported staffing shortages because of Omicron.

She has also heard anecdotally about long lineups for unrelated blood tests because of the strain on the entire system.

“It’s a tough place right now in our labs,” she added.

You don’t want regular tests to be affected, with regards to turnaround times because now we’re talking about just tracking health day to day, which is concerning.”

Graphic by Cameron Tulk

May Warren is a Toronto-based breaking news reporter for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @maywarren11

Still waiting for your COVID lab test results? You’re far from alone

News Jan 13, 2022 by May Warren Toronto Star

Tens of thousands of Ontarians are still waiting for COVID lab test results as the province faces a huge backlog at levels not seen during previous pandemic waves.

As of Thursday, there were almost 80,000 Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR tests) still under investigation, meaning the results haven’t been returned to individuals, according to provincial data, with about 59,000 tests processed the previous day.

The seven-day average for backlogged tests is over 94,000, even though the average for completed tests is about 52,500.

“The system is clearly not working, period,” said Ahmed Al-Jaishi, a London, Ont.-based epidemiologist, on what the backlog shows.

Al-Jaishi, who has been tracking pending cases throughout the pandemic from the provincial numbers, said they were under 20,000 for most of the fall, but then “skyrocketed,” with Omicron’s arrival in December.

On New Year’s Eve, the eligibility for free PCR tests in the province changed. Now only people in high-risk settings, like health-care workers and individuals in long-term-care homes and hospitals, can get them.

They’re also the only cases that public health units are doing contact tracing for, reaching out and trying to stop a chain of transmission by calling people who were exposed.

Everyone else can either pay for a private test, which can go for hundreds of dollars, or assume they have COVID if they have symptoms, and isolate for five days.

If symptoms are improving after that, they can go back to work or school.

“I think the backlog is even more important when you’re focused on high-risk settings,” said Al-Jaishi.

“It’s also important from a contact-tracing perspective.”

Contact tracing, he added, has “collapsed because most public health units have too many people they have to follow.”

“It’s mission impossible on steroids, because of what’s happening with the Omicron surge.”

In Toronto, for example, according to the city’s COVID dashboard’s seven-day average, only 67 per cent of tests are turned around within 48 hours.

Looking at the seven-day average for the PCR test backlog, the highest point was early this week, at over 98,000. Since then it has fallen slightly, but it’s still higher than it has been throughout the pandemic.

The previous high was in early October 2020, with just over 76,000.

It’s not clear how many of the tests in the record backlog are for higher-risk people under the new requirements, and how many are for people still waiting for tests that don’t matter much anymore as it’s been over 10 days and their symptoms have improved.

A spokesperson for Ontario Health said in an emailed statement that they were “unable to confirm when the tests awaiting processing were originally taken.”

They added that, “various factors can contribute to the number of tests in the queue across the lab network at any given time, including increased demand for testing driven by increasing Omicron infection rates and health human resource pressures.”

The higher infection rates have led to staff shortages, and they’re “exploring opportunities for additional labs to support provincial testing.” This includes reinstating a program that was launched in 2020 to train science graduates to work in COVID testing labs.

In response to a social media call-out from the Star, dozens of people responded that they are still waiting for PCR test results from over the holidays.

Max Farber was lucky to get a test on Jan. 1, just as the change in eligibility was being implemented. He started to have symptoms on New Year’s Eve.

The 28-year-old, who is double-vaccinated, still hadn’t received a result as of Thursday, but after almost two weeks, and with his symptoms resolved, he wonders what the point is now in processing the test.

“People are just desperate for tests but the system is just completely screwed so now really … even if I get my test results back it doesn’t mean anything to me because I’m back to normal,” he said.

“At this point I honestly don’t expect to get my results, maybe in March I’ll get an email.”

The Omicron surge is now delaying not only COVID tests, but putting pressure on the entire lab-test system, said Michelle Hoad, CEO of Medical Laboratory Professionals’ Association of Ontario, which represents lab workers in the province.

They’ve got the instruments to run thousands of tests, “but the problem is we don’t have the people to do it,” she said.

“One-hundred per cent there are mistakes being made and that’s just because of the number of tests coming in right now.”

Some staff are off sick with Omicron, Hoad said, and students who would have done internships are also not working at labs right now because they’re too overwhelmed to take them on. Her organization has also called for the government to make long-term investments in lab staff.

A recent survey they did found almost 90 per cent of respondents reported staffing shortages because of Omicron.

She has also heard anecdotally about long lineups for unrelated blood tests because of the strain on the entire system.

“It’s a tough place right now in our labs,” she added.

You don’t want regular tests to be affected, with regards to turnaround times because now we’re talking about just tracking health day to day, which is concerning.”

Graphic by Cameron Tulk

May Warren is a Toronto-based breaking news reporter for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @maywarren11