British Columbia’s seniors’ advocate says the Fraser Health Authority’s move to oversee a pair of Abbotsford care homes with serious COVID-19 outbreaks underscores the need to deploy rapid tests as soon as possible.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said in late November that B.C. had received a portion of the millions of rapid tests acquired by the federal government, but was still “working out the best way” to use them.
Options included possible deployment to care homes and rural areas, she said.
Seniors’ advocate Isobel Mackenzie said Saturday that long-term care and assisted-living facilities need the tools now.
“I would like to see them deployed as quickly as possible,” Mackenzie said.
“Targetted first and foremost to the Lower Mainland, and you could argue targetted within the Lower Mainland to Surrey and those areas we know where we’ve got the highest levels of community transmission.”
At least 58 care homes in B.C. were dealing with outbreaks as of Saturday, most of them in the Fraser Health region.
The number is more than double the care home outbreaks at the peak of COVID-19’s first wave according to Mackenzie.
The care homes have also seen a wave of fatalities, unlike anything B.C. has seen so far in the pandemic.
On Friday, Fraser Health moved to provide “leadership supports” and COVID-19 oversight at Tabor Home, which has 154 cases and 18 deaths, and Menno Home, which has 41 cases and one death, in Abbotsford.
Dan Levitt, executive director at Tabor Village welcomed the added resources but echoed the call for rapid tests.
“By the time you develop symptoms and you get tested, the damage has already been done and the virus has already spread,” he said.
“If we had rapid testing as one extra tool that we don’t currently have … then we would capture more information on the people who have COVID and we would be able to prevent them from entering the building.”
Rapid tests are less accurate than the “gold-standard” COVID-19 tests, which need to be processed in a lab and generally need at least a day to provide results.
Rapid tests can be processed in the same place a patient is tested, sometimes in as few as 15 minutes, but because they are less reliable still need to be confirmed by a lab test.
Mackenzie, who has operated a care home herself, said it was clear rapid tests aren’t a silver bullet but would give administrators an important additional tool.
“If it was my care home and there was an ability to have my staff tested on a regular basis as one of the added layers of protection, I would want to do that,” she said.
“The way I would look at it is it’s not a test, it’s a screening tool … if it tests positive, we get it confirmed by the PCR test. If it tests negative, we don’t assume they don’t have it — they still have to put on their PPE, they still have to answer the health questions.”
Global News has requested comment from the Ministry of Health on the status of rapid test deployment.
— With a file from the Canadian Press