covid test centres toronto

Toronto hospital website crashes under surge of demand for COVID test appointments

Getting an appointment at a COVID-19 assessment centre in Toronto right now is akin to scoring OVO Fest tickets without a presale code: frustrating, difficult, and incredibly competitive.

After a two-day-long suspension of walk-in services at publicly-funded test sites across Ontario, appointments are now required for everyone and anyone with symptoms of COVID-19.

Demand is as high as it was expected to be, based on the ridiculously long lines spotted outside local hospitals in recent weeks, and it's not expected to dissipate any time soon now that we've officially hit the pandemic's long-dreaded second wave.

The outdoor queues may be gone, but only because they've moved to phone lines and online booking platforms — some of which aren't equipped to handle such massive surges of traffic. 

Unlike Ticketmaster, which, for all its faults, has the infrastructure in place to support a flood of users (most of the time), hospital websites are... well, they're websites for hospitals: heavy on logistical information, light on e-commerce modules.

"Due to the high volume of visitors on our website to book an appointment for COVID-19 testing, we are currently experiencing technical difficulties," wrote Scarborough Health Network in a since-deleted tweet on Tuesday morning.

"We apologize for the inconvenience and are working to resolve it."

The website is back up now for appoinrment pre-registration only.

To be fair, hospitals didn't have much time to prepare for the rush on appointments: Premier Doug Ford only announced the new policy on Friday.

Some hospital networks, like Unity Health (St. Joseph's and St. Michael's) University Health Network (Toronto Western, Toronto General), and Toronto East Health Network (Michael Garron) were quick to launch smooth online booking tools. 

Others are doing things differently: Humber River Hospital, for instance, is only taking appointments by phone

Mount Sinai Hospital is relying on third-party ticketing website Eventbrite to book its COVID-19 assessments, all of which are currently listed as "sold out."

However an assessment centre is taking appointment requests and registrations, availability appears incredibly limited right now. In several cases, booking modules can't even be accessed.

"We're sorry — we have reached the daily registration limit at our COVID-19 Assessment Centre for today," reads the website for Women's College Hospital.

"Online registration opens every day at 6 a.m. We accept 600 registrations per day. Please try again tomorrow."

"Sorry, there are currently no appointments available to be booked online at the Branson Assessment Centre," reads North York General Hospital's website.

"Continue to self-isolate and check back tomorrow for an appointment on Sat. Oct 10 or go to your nearest emergency department if your symptoms worsen."

Overall, people seem to be find the process of booking a COVID-19 test annoying, if even possible at all.

"Nothing inspires confidence like trying to book a COVID test appointment for my kid on EVENTBRITE, then scrambling through each hospital website to find availability," wrote one Toronto resident.

"Why is there no central booking?! It is confusing to say the least and not accessible."

The most-common advice on hospital websites so far suggests that people with symptoms of COVID-19 should check back often for availabilities (and that, obviously, if you are severely ill, you should go to an Emergency Room.)

Those without symptoms can hit up a pharmacy for a test, if they are so inclined, and will also need to make an appointment.

Lead photo by

Scarborough Health Network

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