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B.C.’s seniors advocate calls for COVID-19 rapid testing at long-term care homes

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With the number of outbreaks in B.C.'s long-term care homes more than doubling from the first wave of COVID-19 in the spring, BC Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie says it's time we started using rapid tests on all LTC staff members. Kylie Stanton reports – Nov 23, 2020

B.C.’s advocate for seniors says there should be rapid COVID-19 testing for all staff members at long-term care homes.

Isobel Mackenzie says new measures need to be considered amid the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic and rapid tests, which provide results in as little as 15 minutes, can help identify staff members with COVID-19 who are asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic.

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B.C. health officials report 1,933 new COVID-19 cases, 17 deaths over three days – Nov 23, 2020

“At the height of wave one, we had about 23 care homes in outbreak and now we have more than double that,” Mackenzie said.

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“Our approach and strategy towards testing that we took in wave one needs to look a bit different in wave two because the circumstances are different.”

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Mackenzie says right now, long-term care homes only test staff when there’s an outbreak and different facilities have different testing methods.

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B.C. report calls on urgent measures to help protect seniors – Nov 19, 2020

“I think we need to add yet another layer of protection, and that is these rapid tests that would allow us to test staff very regularly, even on a daily basis, because the test is done on site and the results are on site in 15 to 30 minutes. Given where we are in the pandemic, I think that that is an approach we should be taking, especially in the Lower Mainland.”

A recent report by the BC Care Providers Association, which speaks for long-term care, assisted living, independent living and home health operators, also recommended the use of rapid testing protocols.

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Read more: B.C. seniors need more protection as COVID-19 pandemic’s 2nd wave hits: report

When asked why rapid testing has been deployed in the film industry and for professional sports teams and not long-term care, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Monday rapid tests are not a “panacea.”

“It is not what is going to solve our issue because the tests have faults and limitations and you’d have to test everybody every day,” she said.

“Yes, they certainly do it in some sectors for short periods of time but the yield and the volume of testing that that would require is not at the point where it would be helpful for us instead of the regular screening that we are doing every day.”

When there are outbreaks in long-term care, tests are done on asymptomatic workers and residents as needed, Henry said.

There are 60 active outbreaks in health-care facilities, including 54 long-term care or assisted-living sites and six hospitals or acute-care facilities.

— With files from The Canadian Press