N.S. health should have been better prepared for influx of 811 calls at start of school year: critics
HALIFAX -- A week-and-a-half into the school year and Nova Scotia's 811 system continues to struggle with an influx of calls.
The province's health minister says 811 has seen higher call volumes week than the last year.
"I've been assured the phone lines is not the principal bottleneck, it's the staffing," said Nova Scotia Health and Wellness Minister Randy Delorey. "So they've staffed up, I think, an additional 15 to 17 people in the last week."
Wednesday alone, 811 received 1,791 incoming calls; of those, 720 were referred for COVID-19 testing.
"The system that we've been told we need to rely on for timely testing results is already backlogged," said Nova Scotia Teachers Union president Paul Wozney.
Wozney says teachers are worried that some students will be sent to school sick and wants to see access to rapid testing for COVID-19 at schools.
"Nova Scotia's workers are disproportionately low-wage earners and lots of people can't afford to miss long periods of time," Wozney says. "They live paycheck to paycheck, many of them lost their jobs during the shutdown, CERB is running out," Wozney said. "Families are absolutely going to be forced into a scenario where they either send their kids to school sick or keep their family afloat financially."
NDP leader Gary Burrill says government should have anticipated a dramatic spike in calls to 811 with school back in session.
"I think it was an administrative failure on the part of government to fail to see this coming," Burrill said. "The solution to this logjam, a significant part, would have been for them to follow the example of other provinces, like in Saskatchewan. They do this also in New Brunswick, where they have a system of expedited testing for schools."
"We have a couple mobile units now," said Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil. "So, for arguments sake, an outbreak at a school, we would be able to move in those mobile units, we're looking at how, is there a gap in the province as we start to take those testing sites off our campuses, is there a gap where we might want a pop up testing sites in other parts of the province."
Despite the delays, people are encouraged to call 811 if they have COVID symptoms.