Vaccinate me. Vaccinate me, my friend.
How many COVID tests does a person need in a 72 hours period? Well, I suppose it depends on where you are going, what you are doing and who requires it.
Under the current laws, surveillance testing is not necessarily reimbursable by insurance or through the HRSA program for uninsured people. If an employer mandates testing for the workplace, that is at the expense of someone other than insurance of HRSA (this would be surveillance testing). However, “community exposure” is the caveat. We leave our safe space from COVID, and we are in a community exposure setting. I put this as a backdrop, as I recently traveled to Canada with Advize’s CEO, Jeanmarie Loria, and our experiences with both testing and traveling were quite a challenge.
We needed to be fully vaccinated in order to travel (check). We needed proof of a negative covid test within 72 hours of travel, and it had to be a PCR test (semi-check to be discussed).
We needed to register with Canada through a website, where we had to upload our vaccination cards, answer a lot of questions, provide the locations of our stays, and that should we contract COVID, that we had ample resources to quarantine for up to 14 days (check).
Prior to the trip, we scheduled our respective PCR tests, with the 72 hour window in mind. I went to a chain pharmacy drive through (in the Orlando area), one that I had used previously for testing. I had gotten my results in under 72 hours previously, so I was confident that would remain the case. I arrived at my appointment first thing in the morning (it was a Friday, and travel was Monday). After doing the swab, and giving the clerk everything, I confirmed that I would have my results by Sunday, since my travel was Monday. The clerk told me that the 72 hours was “business days,” and not calendar days.
First problem; the sample was not to go out until Monday, and results reported after. My travel was Monday, so that was going to present a problem. I left angry and feeling like the information on their scheduling site was just misleading. I was able to find a local testing center with a 3-5 hour turn around time, and was able to get that part of the trip rectified. It did occur to me, however, that both the chain pharmacy and the testing center took my commercial insurance information, so my insurer is going to see claims for two PCR tests within a 30 minute period. I will gladly fight the chain pharmacy on this one. Oddly enough, I actually did get the results from that test late Sunday night.
Jeanmarie went to her appointment at the same chain store, but in New Jersey. I had my appointment about 15 minutes prior to her appointment. I immediately called her and warned her of my experience with the timing. She was told quite the opposite, that 72 hours was the time period. Of course we just assumed that the samples were being processed at different contracted labs.
By Sunday, 2:00 PM, Jeanmarie still had not received her results.
She traveled back to the same location in NJ where she was swabbed, only to find that she too was provided misleading information. The clerk at her location pulled her sample from a box that was awaiting pickup. It never left the building. In a scramble, she was able to find an urgent care center about an hour drive from where she was, paid nearly $150 for the test, and had her results in an hour. In the end, getting the documents and such to get to Canada worked.
Interestingly though, once arriving in Canada, they have a random testing protocol at the airport. Even though we both had been tested twice, had the documents to show that was the case, our CEO was selected for a random test before we could even leave the airport. It has been nearly two weeks since that test, and she never received any notification if she was negative or positive (we do not know if they only report positive results or results regardless).
Canada’s vaccination rate is about 88% (85% are fully vaccinated, and 3% are partially vaccinated). If you include those with natural immunities from recovery from COVID, they are well above 90%. That being said, you are unable to enter and remain anyplace public in the entire country without showing proof of vaccination and wearing a mask. Canada uses a digital vaccination card with a QR code on a mobile device. The QR code is read by someone at the place you are seeking to enter. From an FWA perspective, this creates the inability to have a fake vaccination card; fraud is 100% eliminated (unlike here in the US where the proliferation of false cards is a huge issue). Even fully vaccinated, you must wear a mask until you sit at your table, and must put the mask when you get up. At sporting and other large events, you must wear the mask the entire time, unless you are enjoying some of Canada’s finest adult beverages.
The real challenge occurred when we were leaving. We checked in with the airline using their web check in. In traveling to and from, we used two different airlines. Our inbound airline had very clear information about vaccination status and the negative test and the time frame. Our outbound airline not so much. Although there was a questionnaire that needed to be completed regarding health status, there was nothing that we could find that indicated a negative test within 72 hours was required to enter the US as a citizen.
You can probably see where this is going.
We arrived at the regional airport for our short flight to NJ (we were in Toronto) 90 minutes prior to boarding, presented our vaccination cards and passports, and waited for our boarding passes to be issued. The ticketing agent asked us for our negative test within 72 hours. Perplexed, we reminded him we were US citizens. The ticketing agent replied that the airline and the government require a negative test within 72 hours. Of course, Canada will accept a rapid PCR test, but the US does not. The agent handed us a list of pharmacies that were close to the airport for us to get the test.
We ran a half mile to the pharmacy, each paid $40 for the test, and in 15 minutes, we were done. We ran back to the airport, but of course, we missed the flight. We were put on the next flight and made it back to the US a few hours later.
The experience in Canada was actually great. We did not mind showing the vaccination cards and ID at every place we went, and were impressed with how quickly those with the QR code were allowed to get to their table and enjoy the night. Testing in Canada is abundant, and people can get months’ worth of rapid tests for home use. We spoke with a bartender who tests daily, as he has family members that are immunocompromised, so he wants to make sure those family members do not catch COVID. The $40 fee was a shock, as we have all seen the hundreds of dollars that are paid out of pocket here in the US.
I will be checking my insurance plan to see what was billed and paid and what will come about from the multiple testing in such a short period of time. We live in interesting times.