SASKATOON -- A Saskatchewan woman says her husband has waited days to be tested for COVID-19 after being told he met the criteria.

After returning from a trip to Mexico, Danae Vanderveer said her husband Joe began to exhibit COVID-19-like symptoms.

In a phone interview with CTV News from her home near Asquith, about 40 kilometres west of Saskatoon, Vanderveer said it took dozens of calls to the province's Healthline 811 on Thursday to even be placed in a queue to speak with a healthcare worker. 

"I finally got through and was on hold for an hour-and-a-half before I could speak to a (registered nurse). "They said yes (he met) all the criteria, he definitely needs to be tested."

While the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) has begun taking steps such as opening dedicated COVID-19 testing centres, a referral is needed before someone can be checked for the virus.

"Patients who fit criteria of potential exposure, exhibiting mild symptoms and suspect they may have COVID-19 can obtain a referral," the SHA says on its website.

Calling Healthline 811 is listed as one of the options to get a referral, along with calling a family physician or the local Public Health Communicable Disease Control office.

Vanderveer said the nurse told the couple Joe would be contacted to arrange testing; but a call never came.

"By Saturday one of my R.N. friends said, ‘it's so weird you haven't heard anything. Maybe you should call them back, like maybe you fell through the cracks.'"

Vanderveer said she again encountered trouble getting through when she called Healthline 811 on Saturday.

 "I was the 95th caller on the line. I waited an hour and 13 minutes to be put through only to receive the message when it started ringing (that) said 'I'm sorry we're experiencing technical difficulties at this time please try back later.' And then it hung up," Vanderveer said.

After repeatedly calling 811 on Sunday, Vanderveer said she eventually got through, only to be greeted by the same automated message. 

Monday morning, Vanderveer said she and her husband finally got the referral they needed for testing over the phone from their family doctor.

"But he's had symptoms since Wednesday, (they said he needed testing) Thursday, so now it's Monday. That's five full days of us just sitting here waiting," Vanderveer said.

"It's incredibly frustrating and I'm just thinking they're doing this to stop a big influx of people going to the hospital. There's no other option for people. This going to crash the system."

Vanderveer said she and her husband have been in self-isolation and made a point of not going to a hospital for testing as some of her friends were suggesting. 

"I refuse to go and put other people at risk."

Backlogs for the provincial health line service began on Thursday, the same day the province's first presumptive case of COVID-19 was announced.

During a news conference on Friday, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe addressed the health line's long wait times 

"Concerns regarding the capacity of the Healthline, 811 have been heard. Following an action plan ordered by the Minister of Health, the capacity of the 811 health line has been more than doubled," Moe said.

In his remarks, the Premier also promised "additional capacity" for the phone line over the coming days. 

As of 2 p.m. Monday a call to 811 was answered with an automated message:

"Due to technical difficulties, we are unable to take your call at this time."

In a statement emailed Monday afternoon, SHA spokesperson Amanda Purcell said the health authority has taken steps such as increasing staff numbers at the health line from about a dozen to more than 30 and that work is underway to transition to a new call system that will be able to handle over 500 call lines at a time.

"We recognize that our HealthLine 811 system has been challenged to meet the sudden spike in call volume, and we are seeing that same challenge with similar phone lines across the country," Purcell said.

his is a developing story. More details to come.