How some Canadian travellers are getting free COVID-19 exams within the U.S. to return residence

When Ian Hutcheon inquired about getting a COVID-19 take a look at final month at a Walgreens pharmacy in Gold Canyon, Ariz., earlier than his flight residence to Calgary, he obtained a pleasing shock.

“I occurred to ask to talk to the pharmacist, who stated, ‘Oh, we will take a look at you without cost,'” stated Hutcheon. “I used to be a little bit incredulous, however he insisted.”

Travellers coming into Canada should present proof of a detrimental molecular COVID-19 take a look at taken inside 72 hours of their departing flight or deliberate arrival on the land border. And people molecular exams — corresponding to the favored PCR take a look at — can value a whole lot of {dollars}.

Consequently, Canada’s testing requirement has sparked protests from politicians and tourism teams on each side of the Canada-U.S. border, who complain the exams might be cost-prohibitive.

However CBC Information interviewed six Canadians who just lately travelled to the U.S., and obtained a free molecular take a look at at a pharmacy or a clinic earlier than their return to Canada. 

“It is mind-blowing to suppose that individuals are paying $200 for these exams,” stated Andrew D’Amours, who’s the co-founder of the journey data web site, Flytrippers. 

D’Amours, of Trois-Rivières, Que., has taken three free exams within the U.S. and written in regards to the subject for his web site. 

“It is really easy to get it without cost,” he stated. 

Ian Hutcheon and Colleen McMechan, of Calgary, every obtained free COVID-19 exams at a Walgreens location in Arizona final month earlier than returning to Canada. (Submitted by Ian Hutcheon)

Nonetheless, there are caveats: Travellers is probably not assured to get their take a look at leads to time, and will not discover free exams at their U.S. vacation spot.

However the stars aligned for Hutcheon and his spouse, Colleen McMechan. At Walgreens, they every took a self-administered free Nucleic Acid Amplification Take a look at (NAAT) take a look at, which is listed as an accepted take a look at by the Canadian authorities. 

The couple had booked their exams on-line, itemizing their resort when requested to offer an handle. Hutcheon stated they confronted no points once they drove their rental automobile to Walgreens the next day to take the take a look at on the pharmacy’s drive-thru testing web site.

“They took the swab and about two hours later, the outcomes appeared in my electronic mail inbox,” he stated. “We printed them and took them with us to the airport and it was all clean crusing.”

Why are the exams free?

The exams that Hutcheon and different Canadian travellers have acquired aren’t really free, however as a substitute funded by the U.S. authorities. It has put measures in place to make low or no-cost COVID-19 exams accessible to everybody within the U.S., together with those that do not have U.S. medical insurance coverage. 

“They need individuals to get examined,” stated Jeremy Gelbart, co-founder of BeeperMD, a COVID-19 testing firm that involves individuals’s houses — or resort rooms — to offer free PCR exams. (People who guide a same-day take a look at for one individual, nevertheless, should pay a reserving charge.) 

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BeeperMD providers prospects in New York Metropolis and most areas in Florida. The corporate has already offered free exams to hundreds of Canadian travellers, together with snowbirds, Gelbart stated.

BeeperMD usually gives take a look at outcomes inside 36 hours and can do every thing it may to make sure travellers get their outcomes inside Canada’s required 72-hour window, he stated. However he cautions there aren’t any ensures for non-paying prospects.

As a precaution, Gelbart advises travellers to guide their free exams a few days upfront. 

“If individuals are ready, they’re going to be tremendous,” he stated. “We attempt to be as accommodating as potential.”

Fast NAAT exams

4 of the Canadians interviewed used a Walgreens drive-thru web site to take a free, self-administered NAAT take a look at, which the pharmacy chain calls an ID NOW take a look at. Every traveller stated they pre-booked their take a look at on-line at the least someday upfront and obtained their outcomes inside three hours of testing. 

D’Amours has twice taken a NAAT take a look at at Walgreens: as soon as in Could in Newark, N.J., and the second time on Sunday in Baton Rouge, La. He stated the NAAT exams are the best choice for Canadians, as a result of they supply fast outcomes.

“I might say it is a recreation changer.”

A number of Canadians informed CBC Information they obtained free, self-administered COVID-19 exams through a Walgreens drive-thru location. (Submitted by Andrew D’Amours)

Walgreens didn’t reply to requests for remark. Nonetheless, the pharmacy chain’s web site states that it provides no-cost COVID-19 testing at choose areas. 

It additionally says that PCR take a look at outcomes are usually offered inside 48 hours, however with out a assure. Nonetheless, its NAAT take a look at is carried out on-site, and outcomes can be found inside 24 hours.

Walgreens additionally states that prospects have to deliver a legitimate state ID or driver’s licence to the take a look at web site. Some of the individuals interviewed by CBC stated they needed to present ID, and that their Canadian ID sufficed. 

“We simply gave our Canadian driver’s licence IDs and that labored completely tremendous,” stated Haris Naeem Nini, of Milton, Ont. He and his spouse, Mariam Haris, every obtained free NAAT exams at a Walgreens drive-thru within the Buffalo space in Could.

Haris Naeem and Mariam Haris Nini, of Milton, Ont., every obtained free NAAT exams at a Walgreens within the Buffalo space in Could, simply earlier than returning to Canada. (Submitted by Haris Naeem Nini )

Walgreens states that prospects can solely get examined by automobile through a drive-thru. Nini stated the couple did not have a car, in order that they went via the drive-thru in an Uber. 

“The expertise was a breeze and clearly did not value us something — apart from the Uber journey.”

In September, Delores Davidson additionally acquired a free take a look at, however she went to a CVS pharmacy drive-thru in Rancho Mirage, Calif., and obtained a PCR take a look at. She stated she needed to pre-book her appointment on-line and it took about 24 hours to get the outcomes. 

“It was fast and simple,” stated Davidson, who lives in Calgary. “We by no means paid. We have been by no means charged.”

CVS additionally didn’t reply to requests for remark. 

An indication promoting no-cost COVID-19 exams at a testing web site in New York Metropolis. (submitted by Shelley Ambrose)

Free take a look at warnings

D’Amours warns that the NAAT/ID NOW exams aren’t accessible in any respect Walgreen areas, so Canadians ought to examine on-line earlier than making U.S. journey plans. Travellers may have to guide their free take a look at a number of days upfront to safe an appointment, he stated. 

D’Amours additional advises travellers to remain knowledgeable throughout their travels — in case the U.S. out of the blue adjustments its no-cost take a look at coverage. “You by no means know, with the U.S. [land] border reopening, will they get too many Canadians and resolve to scrap it?”

One other traveller additionally has a warning. 

Petar Sesar, of London, Ont., stated he and his fiancée, Mara Bakula, tried to get a free PCR take a look at at a CVS in Cleveland in August, however have been informed it could take at the least 4 days to get their outcomes.

“I stated, ‘How lengthy will it take, as a result of we plan on leaving for Canada tomorrow,'” stated Sesar. “They type of laughed at us after we urged that we might be utilizing the take a look at outcomes to journey.”

The couple wound up paying $200 US every at a clinic to get PCR exams with assured fast outcomes.

Heather Welwood of Spruce Grove, Alta., additionally has a cautionary story.

In Could, she and her husband, Bruce, every acquired a free PCR take a look at at a clinic in Phoenix, Ariz. 

In June, the couple’s journey insurance coverage supplier requested them to file a declare for an bill it acquired for Bruce’s take a look at. Welwood stated that as a result of Bruce had acquired care two years in the past at a U.S. hospital, the lab that analysed his PCR take a look at was capable of finding out the title of the couple’s journey insurance coverage supplier, and billed it $150 US for Bruce’s take a look at.

Welwood stated as soon as she defined the scenario to their supplier, the matter was dropped and he or she did not need to file a declare.

“It may be resolved, however that you must maintain a watch out for it,” she stated.

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