oronto-area startup Switch Health accused of fumbling Canada’s COVID-19 border testing

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When Greg Skinner returned to his Invermere, B.C., home after visiting his 10-year-old daughter in the United States, he says he tried for 10 consecutive days to set up an online video call with a registered nurse.

Canada’s COVID-19 testing and quarantine protocols require travellers like Skinner to get tested twice for the novel coronavirus after they arrive. Travellers also need to ensure a healthcare professional supervises them taking a swab, while in isolation. This is why he needed to set up the video chat.

But from the day he returned on Feb. 28, Skinner says he tried to log on to the online testing portal and kept getting bumped off before he could make it to the top of a waiting list.

Finally, on March 10, Skinner says he got someone on the phone to answer his questions.

They weren’t from the government.

Skinner said he didn’t record the conversation, but he provided Global News with call records, emails and screenshots corroborating his claims that he made numerous attempts to set up an appointment.

He said the person who advised him to take the test without supervision was someone doing customer service for Switch Health, a Toronto-based startup company.

Federal contract worth almost $100 million

The Public Health Agency of Canada awarded Switch Health a contract in early 2021 worth nearly $100 million to manage hundreds of thousands of coronavirus tests for travellers arriving in the country at land-border crossings and at airports in Toronto, Montreal, Calgary and Vancouver.

Switch Health uses a remote two-step process that includes an initial test within 24 hours of arrival. The government requires a second test seven days later. Prior to April 23, the second test was required nine days after arrival.