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Man says complying with COVID test at land border was a nightmare


Instructions were impossible to follow and getting answers was an exercise in frustration, Salt Spring resident says

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Dan Dickmeyer said he’d never been happier to see a water taxi in his life.

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The 76-year-old Salt Spring Island man had spent weeks trying to follow a federal government order to provide a COVID-19 test within 24 hours of returning to Canada after a vacation in the United States.

But Dickmeyer said he went through “a bureaucratic nightmare” and “days of anguish.”

His test wasn’t delivered to a lab until nearly two weeks after he had taken it. The delay made him worry about the potential of a $3,000 violation fine.

“I was relieved when I saw the water taxi rushing towards us. My test was finally being picked up,” he said. “But then I wondered whether my test would still be viable. Had it expired? Would I have to take another test and was this ordeal finally over?”

“The lack of information and the lack of response caused me many days of anguish and hours on the phone to try to find out who I should report this to,” he said.

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Dickmeyer’s ordeal began on Jan. 16, when he arrived at the Canada-U.S. land border at Blaine, Wash.

He is fully vaccinated and although he had the required PCR test result in hand when he arrived at the border, Dickmeyer was chosen at random to take part in tests being carried on at airports and land crossings.

He was handed a COVID-19 PCR test kit and given 24 hours to use it.

“I was worried I would be fined for not obeying the rules,” said Dickmeyer. “But no one from government contacted me about not receiving the test and they never checked to see if I was obeying the quarantine rules.”

The COVID-19 testing program for travellers is managed by the Public Health Agency of Canada which has a contract with LifeLabs to do traveller tests in B.C. LifeLabs contracts FedEx to pick up their tests and deliver them to its lab in Richmond.

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Dickmeyer had no problem quickly booking a Zoom call with a LifeLabs technician who watched him take the test at home. However, when he followed the instructions to arrange a pick up, FedEx told him it did not serve Salt Spring Island.

“FedEx told me to drop off my test at Shoppers Drug Mart or deliver it in person to LifeLabs in Richmond, but we don’t have a Shoppers on Salt Spring and there was no way I was going to pay to travel to the Lower Mainland,” said Dickmeyer.

“I tried to call the LifeLabs number that came with my instructions, but they never answered the phone.”

He sought answers online, but he said Health Canada’s website was almost impossible to navigate.

“I had to wade through a confusing set of options to finally see how to reach someone and I spoke on the phone to someone who gave me a website and a number to call, but neither one worked,” he explained.

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“During this time, I thought I only had to self-isolate for five days, which is the rule in B.C., but Ottawa’s rules say 14 days,” said Dickmeyer.

“I was getting more and more confused and more stressed out about what I should be doing.”

Dickmeyer found an email address for LifeLabs on the Health Canada website and he was told in writing that someone would be in touch. Shortly after, he got a call from a courier company saying a water taxi would pick up his test on Friday.

“The water taxi driver used some colourful language about this kind of thing happening before. He told me the test would be taken to the Victoria airport, flown to Vancouver then sent to a LifeLabs site for analysis. I wonder how much all of that cost taxpayers?”

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Officials at the Public Health Agency of Canada would not comment on Dickmeyer’s case.

In a written response, it pointed to its website that shows during the week Dickmeyer crossed the border, 1,854 B.C. travellers were ordered to provide a test and seven per cent of those tested positive. Dickmeyer tested negative.

Between April 2021 and the end of January 2022, 784 travellers to B.C. were fined for refusing to take a PCR test or for other reasons that could include turning in late test results.

LifeLabs did not respond to questions about how often it is unable to pick up tests within the 24 hour deadline or what steps it is taking to ensure it does not happen to others.

“The federal government and LifeLabs needs to do something about the lack of information available and the misinformation that you do get when something goes wrong. Obviously, the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing,” Dickmeyer said.

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