London's COVID-19 assessment centres prioritizing patients in wake of massive lineups

This video has been sped up. A large line up of cars could be seen stretching around the block Monday from London's Oakridge Arena COVID-19 assessment centre, a day after the local health unit declared a community outbreak of the virus.

After several days of lengthy line-ups and one day after London’s COVID-19 assessment centres reached capacity well before their closing times, the Middlesex-London Health Unit is announcing some changes.

The assessment centres at Oakridge Arena and Carling Heights Optimist Centre had been generally operating on a “first come, first served” basis, but officials will now be “prioritizing patients with symptoms, those who require testing for medical procedures and contacts of a case.”

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“(Starting) today, assessment centres in London are going to stop testing people who don’t have symptoms and don’t have exposure,” said medical officer of health Dr. Chris Mackie.

“So that will really shift the volume of tests and hopefully, as people get to understand that, you’ll see less lineups.”

Roughly a dozen vehicles had already lined up at the Carling Heights location by 8:30 a.m. on Wed., Sept. 16. That location doesn't open until 11 a.m.

Roughly a dozen vehicles had already lined up at the Carling Heights location by 8:30 a.m. on Wed., Sept. 16. That location doesn't open until 11 a.m.

Jaclyn Carbone/Global News

Mackie said an upcoming increase in demand was anticipated, but not so much so soon.

“(There’s) lots and lots of good information to suggest we would see a second wave sort of activity,” said Mackie.

“But people have amped up their concern level and are getting tested more than even the increase in disease we’re seeing now would justify. So, yeah, this this definitely came before I think the whole system was ready.”

Mackie said if you have symptoms that could be probable COVID-19 or you’ve been in contact with a confirmed case, then it is important that you get tested. As well, some people require tests for surgery or to visit family members in long term care facilities.

“We’re having trouble getting people who have been in contact with a case tested because of these many-hours-long lineups. We know that testing people who don’t have symptoms and don’t have an important exposure is very, very low yield.”

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Mackie also hopes that in addition to the new protocols, that testing capacity increases as well.

“I need to stress that the health unit doesn’t operate the assessment centres,” he said.

“They’re operated by Thames Valley Family Health and London Health Sciences Centre in partnership with the paramedic service. We’re involved, but it’s really Ontario Health, which is the new provincial super-agency, that oversees the centres and said that the health care partners that are stepping up to do that testing, which, you know, kudos to them, they’ve been doing a great job of doing that.”

Steve Shelby was among those waiting in line for hours at Oakridge Arena on Tuesday and is currently awaiting results.

“Funny enough, my son got a runny nose at daycare and was subsequently kicked out so I needed to get a test to prove that he doesn’t have COVID,” he told Global News.

He says he, his wife, and their two sons arrived at roughly 8:20 a.m. — the location opens at 9 a.m. — and didn’t get tested until after 1:30 p.m.

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“They said to get there at eight o’clock and you should probably be the first one in line. But that obviously wasn’t the case,” he said.

“There was a nurse that was going around taking numbers at the cars about quarter after 9:00. So it was probably about an hour before we saw anyone.”

Shelby did mention that when they finally got the test, the doctors were very nice and the nurses were great, but the wait itself was tremendous.

Fortunately, he says, his in-laws live nearby so his wife took the kids to their house during the wait while he stayed in the car.

“But if people didn’t have that option, that would be absolutely horrible. It was like we lasted about half an hour and then they couldn’t do it anymore.”

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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