‘You could feel the tension in the air’: Fight for free rapid COVID-19 tests leaves many empty-handed

Thousands of people lined up in Ontario Thursday morning for a chance to get free COVID-19 rapid test kits from the province, though many left empty-handed.

Eight The official quick test pop-ups in the GTA were hosted by the province on Thursday, announced only the day before. All but one were indoors and three in shopping centers.

Each location attracted massive lineups, and all reportedly ran out of testing early. Lenny Stone, along with hundreds of others, arrived at Mississauga’s Square One early in search of proof.

“It was crazy how many people showed up,” Stone said. “A lot of people were frustrated. They thought it was ridiculous that there was only one kiosk distributing. You could feel the tension in the air. “

Stone had previously tried to limit his time in shopping malls during the pandemic, particularly as cases of the Omicron variant increased.

On Thursday, Toronto reported 755 new cases of COVID-19. The daily average last week was 218 and that was a 66 percent jump from the previous week, which was the seventh consecutive week of increased spread of the virus.

“It was unnerving being there,” Stone said. “Because of the way the line was set up, a lot of people were constantly getting in front of us to get through the mall. I was very happy to get out of there. “

In a statement to the Star, the Health Ministry said it decided to host some pop-ups in shopping malls because people are likely already there.

“Health partners and local businesses have identified locations where increased traffic is expected during the holiday season and where vaccinated and unvaccinated people are likely to gather,” said ministry spokesman Bill Campbell.

Stone, who works on health equity issues, said the way pop-ups are organized can be a barrier for some communities. Not everyone, especially essential workers who perhaps have the greatest need for quick test kits, can queue at a mall on a Monday through Friday morning.

“It’s not the most organized approach,” he said. “Alberta is launching its rapid test program tomorrow and it looks a lot more organized than it was. They have specific places that people will go to get kits every two weeks.

“The pop-up schedule that Ontario has online is only for three days. What happens after those three days? ”

Amanda Ferguson got tested at Waterpark Place on Thursday morning. He set an alarm for 7 am and walked over. Ferguson said the “Toronto mentality” helped her form a plan of attack to secure a team.

“When you’re fighting for concert tickets, or any other pop-up or giveaway, if you’re not there first, you run the risk of leaving empty-handed,” he said. “That was my strategy. Set the alarm, you lose an hour or two of sleep, but it is worth the peace of mind to have (the evidence). “

In Hamilton, a city of nearly 800,000, there was only one test kit pop-up. Their stock was out of stock in minutes.

Dan Jelly arrived at the pop-up at 9 a.m., when it was supposed to start. The province had sent a bus to deliver the tests to a local park.

He hoped that, through the tests, his family could “have something like a normal Christmas this year.” Ten minutes after his arrival, he and the hundreds ahead of him in line, some of whom told him they had arrived at 6 am, were told there was no evidence left.

“It was frustrating, disappointing, I’m angry,” he said. “Medical care in a park is quite rare, but we are a city of over half a million people and all we have is a bus. Nowhere else in the city are they being distributed (quick tests) and I’ll have to skip Christmas if I don’t get one. “

The Ontario government announced Wednesday that free rapid test kits would also be delivered at select LCBOs in the province. including 21 in Toronto.

“Medical care in an LCBO is not appropriate,” Jelly said. “I have friends who are recovering alcoholics; they don’t want to get into an LCBO for any reason, ever. You’ve been sober for five years and this is the worst time of year to be around you. “

The Health Ministry told the Star that it recognizes that “some people may not feel comfortable visiting an LCBO, so we have ensured that rapid tests are available through multiple sites.”

He said the crown corporation was chosen to help distribute the tests because it has “locations throughout the province and an established distribution network.”

Lyndsay Butlin didn’t even make it to line for a test at Hamilton. Not the nearby parking lot. She was stuck in traffic for 10 minutes outside the park.

“It’s frustrating because other provinces have been running these tests for so long,” he said. Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan have made free rapid test kits available to residents for months.

Butlin ended up ordering 25 rapid tests online from Canadian Life Science for $ 200 and was told the tests would be shipped once they were available.

“It seems that even buying rapid tests before Christmas may not be an option,” he said.

Ben Cohen is a Star staff reporter in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @bcohenn


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