811 told this Dartmouth woman she needed a COVID-19 test. But it never happened

A Dartmouth, N.S., woman who was directed by 811 staff to visit an assessment site for a swab says she was never tested for COVID-19 and regrets calling the line.

“I found the situation really overwhelming,” said Toni Losey. “I was already struggling with everything that we’re all struggling with right now. And this was a tipping point for me. I just really broke down over it.”

Losey spent several weeks in the U.K. and returned to Nova Scotia on Monday, March 16.

When she landed at the airport in Halifax, she took the advice of officials there who advised her to put herself under self-quarantine.

After eight days at home, Losey said she started to get worried because she had some symptoms.

“So I called into 811 just to be cautious — primarily for my family at this point — just feeling that it was worth checking,” she said. “I was feeling a lot of postnasal drip and some heaviness in the chest, a little bit of chest pain.”

She also developed a lingering cough.

The early symptoms of COVID-19 are similar to a common cold or seasonal flu, and can include fever, cough, difficulty breathing and pneumonia in both lungs.

Losey phoned 811 and they set her up with an appointment to be tested on Tuesday morning in Dartmouth.

“They said that because you’ve been out of the country and because you have symptoms, we need to get you tested,” she said.

But it didn’t happen.

‘You do not qualify for a swab’

Losey said she arrived at the assessment station for her appointment.

“You sit in your car and a security guard comes and tells you, ‘OK, it’s safe to go in.’ But there’s no way to open the doors without using your hands, so that’s a mistake,” she said.

Losey sat down in front of a nurse. The two were separated by Plexiglas. She was told to clean her hands with sanitizer and put on a mask.

Shortly after, she was directed into a large gymnasium where she filled out a registration form. She sat down and waited to be called.

Losey said health-care workers called her name, took her temperature and her blood pressure. And they asked her a series of questions about her symptoms.

“At that time they said, ‘Well, you do not qualify for a swab,'” she said.

Nova Scotia is working on expanding its capacity for COVID-19 tests. (Nova Scotia Health Authority)

Losey explained to staff at the testing site that 811 operators specifically told her she needed a swab.

“They said, ‘Well, we’ve been hearing that a lot,’ so that didn’t really give me peace of mind,” she said.

Instead, Losey was sent home and put under a strict 14-day quarantine. She was told to have no contact with her children or her husband during that time.

It turns out that since she was inside the assessment station, she was at risk of exposure. They told her that if she experienced new symptoms — or any symptoms from that point forward — she should call 811 again.

More stringent isolation

Department of Health and Wellness spokesperson Marla McInnis provided comment in a statement to CBC News.

“If 811 determines you should be assessed by medical staff, you will be given an appointment at one of NSHA’s COVID-19 assessment centres,” she wrote. “It is through that assessment that health-care professionals will determine if a test if required.”

Now, Losey is more isolated in her home than she was before.

Chief medical officer of health Dr. Robert Strang reminded Nova Scotians on Wednesday that regardless of symptoms, it’s impossible — and unnecessary — to test everyone. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

“The quarantine I’ve been put on now confines me to a room within my house specifically with a separate bathroom,” she said. “It’s definitely more stringent and extreme.”

Losey can’t even eat meals in the same room as her husband and two teenage kids.

She’s a potter and said her studio is in a section of the house she’s not supposed to enter. She’s allowed to go in her backyard, but cannot leave her property.

“I don’t even know if I have words for it,” she said. “I think it’s important we accept the guidelines that we have. I want to keep me and my family safe, but it hurts to start over.”

‘It seemed really strange to me’

Steven Bowers, also of Dartmouth, said he tried unsuccessfully to get a test after both his wife and his young son developed pneumonia last week.

Bowers and his wife own The Curling Store in Dartmouth.

He posted a long warning on the store’s Facebook page this week advising customers that his wife became ill and that anyone who may have been in the store — before it closed last week — may have come in contact with a virus.

Whether it was the COVID-19 virus, Bowers said he doesn’t know.

No one in his family has recently been out of province. When he phoned 811, he was told that despite her symptoms, Bowers’s wife didn’t require testing.

“It seemed really strange to me,” he said. “All four of us are sick and two of us have pneumonia.”

Bowers said his wife is suffering with a fever that comes and goes in waves, chest congestion and pain in her back and ribs. Both she and their son were given antibiotics to fight the pneumonia and are starting to get better.

Bowers believes since he operates a retail store with so many elderly customers, his wife should have qualified for testing.

Sometimes, it’s just the flu

During his Wednesday briefing, Dr. Robert Strang reminded Nova Scotians that regardless of symptoms, it’s impossible — and unnecessary — to test everyone who has obvious symptoms.

“We have to remember two things,” he said. “We’re still in influenza season. That’s not over yet, so lots of people who haven’t travelled, there’s a good chance they have influenza, not COVID. We also have to make sure that we work within our lab capacity.”

Strang said work is now underway to expand the lab testing capacity. But until then, he doesn’t want to overwhelm it by having everyone come in for a test.

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