B.C. public health officials are using their available rapid test capacity to help contain COVID-19 outbreaks in shelters, prisons and senior care facilities, as well as clusters of infection in hospitals and in the community, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says.
Henry confirmed Friday that B.C.’s limited supplies of rapid tests have been used to deal with recent outbreaks at shelters in Surrey and Vancouver, and they continue to be deployed for staff in long-term care with infection clusters. A vaccine clinic was also held in Vancouver’s downtown east side Friday, now that all B.C. long-term care facilities have received a first dose of vaccine.
Henry defended B.C.’s policy on rapid testing, which uses a sample collected by nose or throat swab or gargling salt water for a saliva sample, as is used in schools. The available tests are not as accurate as the standard tests reported each day to confirm COVID-19, and supplies are limited.
“We are using rapid tests in long-term care and have been,” Henry said Jan. 29. “We’ve been using them in the downtown east side, in shelters, in correctional facilities, in communities, in residences, every place that we think they may be of value.”
B.C.’s Seniors Advocate and care home operators have urged the health ministry to deploy regular rapid tests for all staff at long-term care homes, but Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix have maintained that they can’t do that, partly because the tests B.C. has are only licensed for use on people with coronavirus symptoms.
“The rapid tests that have been sent to us are not successful or effective in dealing with asymptomatic testing, and in any event, haven’t been sent to use in numbers available to put in place such a system,” Dix told the legislature in December when he was pressed to implement daily testing in senior care homes.
Henry noted that B.C.’s rapid tests are not simple to use, requiring health-care staff to take the samples. That means in a hospital or care facility dealing with an outbreak, available staff are in short supply, and more have to come in to administer the tests.
“Whether we use rapid testing where access to the gold standard is not as timely, that will continue,” Henry said. “But we will continue to use the gold standard PCR testing where our turn-around times are very short in most places.”
PCR stands for polymerase chain reaction, the standard test that detects the genetic material in the virus when analyzed in a laboratory. B.C.’s turnaround time for completing the tests spiked up last fall when the number of tests increased with the second wave of infections, but it is currently back down below 24 hours to show results, even as daily tests have climbed back to about 12,000 a day. PCR tests are the main source of B.C.’s daily coronavirus case results.