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Drive-through COVID testing centre in Kitchener closed over safety concerns

A hospital in Kitchener, Ont., closed its drive-through COVID-19 testing centre on Wednesday, citing concerns for the safety of its staff and the public amid a spike in demand.

Vehicles began to line up outside the Grand River Hospital testing clinic at 2:30 a.m., five hours before opening time, hospital spokeswoman Cheryl Evans said.

By 7:30 a.m., traffic was backed up on all the nearby side streets and the centre was already at capacity, Evans said.

“With the volumes we’re seeing, we weren’t sure that we were able to keep the site open and safely provide the services to residents in our community,” she said.

She said some people in line were getting impatient and displayed some “aggressive behaviours,” which contributed to the decision to temporarily shut down the centre. 

Those already in line when the closure was announced were still slated be tested, and the centre is expected to reopen Thursday, the hospital said.

The hospital is looking at ways to increase capacity, such as extending its hours, but that remains in the planning stage at this time, Evans said.

“We have a finite amount of space to use for the drive-through clinic, and once that is full, there really isn’t much we can do,” she said. 

“Unfortunately, of course the demand has increased over the last little while and so that leads out into creating traffic problems in the community.”

She said it’s not uncommon to see vehicles start to line up in the middle of the night lately.

The centre initially expected to complete 300 to 350 COVID-19 tests a day, but last month did about 400 a day, she said. Recently, it’s been between 500 and 650 a day, she said.

Critics have urged the province to expand testing as a number of locations experience lengthy lineups.

On Tuesday, the government announced up to 60 pharmacies would begin offering tests to individuals with no symptoms after they made an appointment.

Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca said the province needs to create hundreds of new testing locations to meet the increased demand.

“Across Ontario we are hearing of testing facilities that are at capacity as soon as they open. This just isn’t acceptable,” he said in a statement.

Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner said the testing situation is “going from bad to worse,” pointing to the Kitchener site as an example.

“The failure to anticipate a surge in testing demand as schools and workplaces reopen is totally unacceptable seven months into this pandemic,” he said in a statement.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Sept. 23, 2020.

Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press

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