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Quest for antigen test in U.S. frustrates South Surrey traveller

April Lewis said her return to Canada was delayed two days by lack of appointment, product
South Surrey resident April Lewis was among travellers whose return to Canada was frustrated last weekend by delays in getting a rapid antigen south of the border. (File photo)

April Lewis knew she’d be greeted by inclement weather on her return home from Palm Springs last weekend, but she wasn’t expecting a cloud of uncertainty to hang over exactly when she and her boyfriend would be able to get back across the border.

“To have the hassle to get back into my own country, that’s the issue,” Lewis said Tuesday (March 15), recounting her experience trying to get the rapid antigen test required for re-entry to Canada.

Lewis, a South Surrey resident, and Martin Clingwall were due back in Canada on Saturday (March 12), capping the end of a road trip that began Jan. 24.

To cross the border, they needed a negative test result within 24 hours of their planned passage. Ensuring they got it within the mandated timeline, said Lewis, was a factor that weighed on her as she and Clingwall drove, however, it “never occurred to me” that the appointment might need to be pre-booked.

Arriving in Bellingham Saturday, the Peace Arch News columnist instead expected that getting the test would be as simple as popping into any pharmacy.

However, that was far from the case. Many locations were closed, and in those that weren’t, they were told the tests weren’t being done, she said. It could be done at Walgreens, she learned, however, those tests had to be pre-booked online.

At Walgreens, Lewis said she was told even with a booked appointment, tests weren’t getting done due to a lack of product.

“I thought, what the F are we going to do?” she said.

While Lewis reached out to South Surrey-White Rock MP Kerry-Lynne Findlay through Facebook for help, she and Clingwall ultimately got their tests done at ARCpoint Labs and were able to get home Monday.

After the two-day delay, Lewis acknowledges she “should have been more proactive” in researching the re-entry process.

At the same time, she’s frustrated that the testing requirement is still in place.

The federal government last month dropped its requirement for fully-vaccinated Canadians to provide a PCR test in order to return to the country. As of Feb. 28, the cheaper antigen test is allowed, provided it is authorized by the country in which it is taken, overseen by either a laboratory, health-care entity or via tele-health, and taken within 24 hours of boarding a flight or arriving at the land border.

READ MORE: Vaccinated Canadians can take antigen test instead of PCR for pre-arrival COVID testing: feds

“This is bulls***,” Lewis said. “I’m triple-vaxxed, this is ridiculous.”

Jean Hincks, a retired Black Press Media publisher whose own experience trying to return to Canada last weekend was similarly frustrating, agreed it’s time to do away with the testing requirement. At the least, it should be done on Canadian soil, she said.

“If the federal government needs us to be tested, why the hell don’t they do that on the Canadian side of the border?” Hincks said.

“Instead, they make us run around in a foreign country and try to manoeuvre around all this stuff. It was so maddening.”

The Chilliwack resident said she was returning after two months away, and had done her homework regarding the testing. Unfortunately, it didn’t trigger any alerts regarding challenges, and it didn’t make it any easier to actually get tested.

She booked appointments for herself and her husband for Sunday (March 13) at a spa in Birch Bay that offered the service, but only received a confirmation for her husband.

With nothing confirmed for herself, “I kinda went into a little bit of a panic mode,” she said. The search that ensued for somewhere she could get the test “became the nightmare,” she added, citing businesses being closed on weekends, calls that went unanswered and the realization that, following her husband’s test, they may have no choice but to drive back to Everett; the closest place Hincks was able to find an appointment for herself.

In the end, Hincks was able to do the test with her husband, after discovering on arrival at the spa that the couple had been placed under one appointment. The woman who supervised their self-test also told of an unprecedented volume of calls concerning the tests.

“No one answers the phone because they are getting hundreds and hundreds of phone calls,” Hincks was told. “She said to me, ‘we are just absolutely overwhelmed at the amount of calls we’ve had.’”

Hincks wonders how those who aren’t tech-savvy or comfortable using their cellphone for anything more than making calls or sending texts are weathering the “very stressful and very crazy” process.

Findlay, in an emailed statement to Peace Arch News, was critical of the continued restrictions.

”We continue to request a roadmap back to normalcy and for the government to end all federal mandates and restrictions, including testing requirements at the borders, but instead the Trudeau government seems to be doubling down,” she said.

“Public health officials are saying we need to learn to live with COVID-19 and as we move into an endemic stage we need to lift mandates and restrictions so that all Canadians can get back to normal life.”
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South Surrey resident April Lewis was among travellers whose return to Canada was frustrated last weekend by delays in getting a rapid antigen south of the border. (File photo)

Tracy Holmes

About the Author: Tracy Holmes

Tracy Holmes has been a reporter with Peace Arch News since 1997.
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