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'Huge backlog': Covid testing sites swamped – 10% of results taking longer than five days

NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Tue, 22 Feb 2022, 7:26pm
(Photo / File)
(Photo / File)

'Huge backlog': Covid testing sites swamped – 10% of results taking longer than five days

NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Tue, 22 Feb 2022, 7:26pm

Testing stations throughout Auckland have been swamped as cars clog the surrounding streets waiting to get a swab and GP clinics in many parts of the country are also feeling the pressure. 

Some 10 per cent people getting Covid tests in Auckland and Northland are waiting longer than five days to get their result, with the median time being two days. 

A Northern Region Health Coordination Centre spokesperson said test demand remained high across Auckland with some people being redirected to sites where queues were not as long. 

By 8am this morning more than 50 cars were in line at the Manurewa Testing Centre. 

Northcote Testing Station faced similar delays this morning with cars backed up along Lake and Exmouth Rds. 

There were also reports of Balmoral Testing Centre being closed for a few hours to clear congestion, and White Cross St Lukes testing station was also swamped. 

An NRHCC spokesperson said community testing centres may close their queues with minimal notice or turn people away for a time if the queues posed a risk to traffic safety or when the number of cars queuing exceeded the time remaining to complete the testing site before the site is due to close. 

The only people who need to be tested are those who had Covid-19 symptoms, are close contacts, returned a positive RAT, are required to have a test under a mandatory testing order or have been told to get a test by a health official. 

The testing requirement for close contacts had also changed in Auckland with household contacts only required to be tested on day eight and non-household contacts only needing to be tested on day five. 

"We understand that extended waiting times can be frustrating, but we ask that you are patient with our testing staff who are working as quickly and as carefully as they can." 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said today she understood the anxiety felt by people who were seeking a test because they were worried but pleaded with people to only seek a test if they met the requirements. 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaking to media in Auckland on Tuesday and covered a range of topics, including testing demand. Photo / Dean Purcell 

"The most important message I can share – our testing stations continue to report that a large portion of people who are coming through are worried but not necessarily requiring tests. If you don't meet any of [the testing] criteria, we do ask that you don't go to our testing station. It is causing long lines." 

All 17 community testing centres in Auckland have enough PCR and rapid antigen tests, NRHCC said. 

Last week NRHCC warned people that test results could take up to five days to process, while Waikato DHB warned it could take up to seven days for people in its region to get test results back. 

One Auckland resident took their 7-year-old to get tested last Friday and is still waiting for the result. They received a text message yesterday saying it would be completed within 72 hours, which means it will have taken an entire week to get the results. 

NZ Institute of Medical Laboratory Science president Terry Taylor said the labs were overrun with tests and still had a backlog from last week to clear. 

Although the introduction of RATs at testing centres in Auckland and Waikato this week had reduced the number of PCR tests required by a third, demand still far outweighed testing capacity. Canterbury was also experiencing high demand for tests. 

"The backlog is huge." 

Laboratories across the country are no longer pooling samples so processing capacity has dropped from about 60,000 samples a day to just 25,000 nationwide. 

Taylor said laboratories got hit pretty hard early. "I thought it would take a week before we got overrun, it only happened in three days so that just shows you the sheer volume of work coming into the testing centres and the samples in the laboratories." 

He said it was likely to still take about five days for test results to be processed. 

Samples were being prioritised on a clinical basis so those who were sicker could see results returned much sooner. People were testing positive for both Delta and Omicron. 

Taylor said it was no fault of the lab workers who were working around the clock to process as many tests as possible. "We just physically don't have the capacity to do any more than we can." 

A West Auckland woman is facing an eight-day for her Covid test. 

The woman and her son got tested last Thursday morning after she had a runny nose and sore throat and she is still waiting for her test despite her son and friend being five cars ahead of her in the queue and receiving their results on Saturday evening. 

On Monday, she was told her test was still being processed and a text message this morning confirmed she would get the results within 72 hours. 

The woman said the whole process was extremely frustrating as she was now almost fully recovered, but still faced being stuck at home for another three days until the results landed. 

She questioned the point of even getting a test if it took so long. 

GP clinics also under the pump: 'The catch up game is huge' 

Meanwhile, Dr Samantha Murton, president of the Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners, says GP clinics across the country were under Covid-19 related pressures, including testing, as they juggled their "business as usual" tasks. 

"[One of the] main pressures is the testing side of things. People are asking [for] tests, people ringing in about the testing process." 

Some clinics, like Murton's, direct people seeking a test to community sites while prioritising Covid-19 vaccinations and boosters. 

"If we know that Omicron is in the door, then the more people we can boost, the better. If there are other services that can provide testing, then they need to be supported to provide the testing." 

GPs use the same laboratories as community testing sites so any delays in processing tests were also being reflected at GPs as well. 

At the same time as handling testing and other Covid-19 related demands, like checking in with vulnerable patients or managing cases, other day-to-day tasks still needed to be attended to - from childhood immunisations to ongoing prescribing. 

Sometimes, some things had to take a "back foot", Murton said. 

"It's hard to carve anything off but what does get carved off is the actual planned care, your diabetes annual reviews might get pushed out or your teenage vaccinations might get pushed out, or you might delay for a couple of weeks another vaccination and each of those adds up. The catch-up game is huge." 

There was a feeling of "we have done what we can do" and a readiness to face the tough situations that lay ahead among members, Murton said. 

"We recognise that it is our gig, that we are going to have to face what we have to face. 

"Until we get through the hump and the dust settles, we're really not going to know how it's going to pan out," Murton said. 

"We are masters of uncertainty but the thing about this is, how high the wave is going to be. We can swim but how high do we have to swim and for how long?" 

- by Nikki Preston and Julia Gabel, NZ Herald

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