CALGARY -- Long lines are greeting many people waiting to get blood work or other medical tests done due to a backlog from laboratories being closed  during the initial outbreak of COVID-19.

Alberta Health Services reopened some of its lab collection sites on June 16, but a few remain closed. Those that are open require patients and staff to wear PPE and use distancing measures that often stretch lines outside the building. 

Patients say they understand there are pandemic measures in place, but worry about the waiting conditions, especially for seniors or people who are ill.

“The lineups here have been just too long,” said Darcey Gejdos, who attended the Calgary Laboratory Services location in Riverbend around 9 a.m. Wednesday.

"Thirty to 40 people lined up in the hot sun outside. At least I’m mobile, I can get around, I can go to a different place.”

In a statement, AHS said it is "continuing to improve the efficiency of COVID-19 swabbing and testing processes, including bringing additional equipment online, expanding testing to more sites and training more staff to bolster testing capacity."

"These approaches will help improve overall efficiencies and access to regular lab testing for all Albertans," the statement read.

"Reviewing the past four months, (Alberta Precision Laboratories) patient service centres (PSCs) and collection locations are currently operating at approximately 70 per cent of pre-pandemic capacity. In comparison to the same months in 2019, in March we were down by 24 per cent, in April 52 per cent, in May 29 per cent, and in June 16 per cent. We are quickly making ground with the resumption of services in June."

Calgary lab testing

AHS says walk-in options have been reduced in favour of pre-booked appointments, but multiple people say there is a long wait for those as well.

“I looked into the appointment and I was getting the appointment for September, the last week,” said Dipesh Jhamb. “So 30 or 40 days away from right now.”

Some say they can’t wait that long

Gejdos is four years into cancer treatment and goes for chemotherapy every two weeks.

“I require a blood test before I can have this therapy, and I made three attempts this week to get a blood test in time,” he said.

Some patients are hoping for a prioritized waitlist procedure to help deal with the backlog.

“We’re more worried about, people might have COVID, or we’re worried about, staff might catch COVID,” Gejdos said.

“I’m worried about people who already have illnesses that are much more serious and they are not getting the treatment they need.”

Some people say labs are asking patients if their work is urgent or if they can take a later appointment instead so others can be accommodated earlier.

A few who lined-up for hours suggested a system for walk-ins like the one many restaurants use — where people can leave while they wait for a call-back.