An advocacy group for long-term care says the provincial government is “duty-bound” to deploy a COVID-19 rapid-testing program for all long-term care staff, residents and essential caregivers in B.C. who are not yet vaccinated.
Terry Lake, CEO of the BC Care Providers Association, said the province already has access to the rapid tests and that they would add an additional layer of protection.
“While we commend the province for taking a step forward with a pilot program several weeks ago, it’s now time for B.C. to scale up its rapid-testing efforts to include seniors’ care homes province-wide,” Lake said.
“With 1.3 million rapid-test kits purchased by the federal government currently warehoused in B.C. and ready for use, getting the kits into the hands of seniors’ care providers should be a top priority for preventing the spread of SARS-CoV-2 in the seniors’ population.”
A rapid test can provide a result on site instead of having to go to a lab, and delivers results in about 15 minutes.
British Columbia launched its pilot in early December at five long-term care homes in Vancouver.
So far, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has said the rapid tests have proven to be cumbersome and time-consuming — that it takes staff up to 15 minutes to administer it.
One of her concerns since the beginning has also been the accuracy of rapid tests done in long-term care settings.
“A single test, by itself, is not very accurate with these rapid tests. It is if you have a cluster of people and they have respiratory illness and you test five or six people and they’re all negative. Then you can be relatively reassured that it’s not COVID,” Henry said.
“If any one of them is positive, it tells you that that’s likely to be COVID in everybody.”
Nova Scotia has successfully launched a similar program, powered by volunteers with no medical background, while Ontario has been using rapid tests in conjunction with lab tests since November.
Another reason Lake said the pilot project should be expanded is that it has already identified multiple health workers who have tested positive but were asymptomatic, thereby preventing a possible outbreak.
“By being overly cautious about using the tests in long-term care and assisted living homes, we are missing an opportunity to bring quality of life back to seniors during this pandemic,” he said.
Last week, the federal government’ advisory panel on COVID-19 testing released a report with four priority areas, including “accelerating the use of rapid tests, primarily for screening.”
The panel recommended targeting rapid testing at selected groups, particularly in high-risk settings.