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Finding ‘peace of mind’ COVID-19 test before holiday get-togethers not easy in Manitoba

Click to play video: 'Manitoba’s Minister of Central Services on rapid tests in the province' Manitoba’s Minister of Central Services on rapid tests in the province
Manitoba's Minister of Central Services sheds some light on where many of the province's COVID-19 rapid test kits have been sent, and when they're expected to get more – Dec 21, 2021

Just days ahead of the holidays, many Manitobans looking for at-home rapid COVID-19 tests to take before getting together with loved ones are coming up short.

While provinces like Ontario, Quebec and Alberta have been handing out free tests to anyone who wants one in recent days, the Manitoba government has not announced a similar program.

Read more: Winnipeg COVID-19 testing sites see long lineups

That’s left some like Ashli Hodgert scrambling to find tests for family members at local pharmacies or through online websites.

“My brother-in-law has Stage 4 cancer so it was really important to us to be with a very small number of family members as much as possible,” Hodgert told Global News this week.

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Click to play video: 'COVID-19: A rapid search for rapid tests in Manitoba' COVID-19: A rapid search for rapid tests in Manitoba
COVID-19: A rapid search for rapid tests in Manitoba – Dec 20, 2021

“I know that we’re not the only people that have sick family members or who feel that desperate need to spend time with the people that we love.

“It’s been really frustrating to try to come up with ways to try to access that.”

Hodgert says the family had been able to get their hands on a few at-home tests so they could get together throughout the year, but they’ve been getting harder and harder to find.

“We were looking online but in addition to being quite expensive, obviously everyone’s been looking for them,” she said.

Read more: Can I get a COVID-19 vaccine yet in Manitoba? How to book it and where to go

Hodgert says the family lucked out when a friend returning from a trip to the United States was able to bring some test back over the border for them.

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But many others haven’t been as lucky. Global News called several pharmacies this week looking for at-home tests, and all said they were sold out.

Last week the Manitoba government announced they would be sending tests home with students at First Nations schools before the winter break, with plans to expand that effort to all schools when students return to class in January.

The province said it had secured 22,000 new kits, each of which contains five rapid antigen tests for the initial school push.

Click to play video: 'Manitoba’s Minister of Central Services on rapid tests in the province' Manitoba’s Minister of Central Services on rapid tests in the province
Manitoba’s Minister of Central Services on rapid tests in the province – Dec 21, 2021

Central Services Minister Reg Helwer told 680 CJOB Tuesday Ottawa has previously given the province roughly 116,000 rapid test kits, which each contain 25-30 tests per kit.

But instead of giving them to those in need before the holidays, more than half of the tests — some 66,000 kits — have been used on employees opting for regular testing instead of vaccination.

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He said most of the remaining 50,000 kits will go to that same effort next month.

Read more: COVID-19: Manitoba parents keeping students home amid rising cases, Omicron concerns

Helwer said the province has asked the federal government for more rapid tests, but are still waiting for confirmation.

“If we had the tests we could distribute them,” he said.

“They’re short everywhere, and we’re trying to find the best path here.”

Click to play video: 'Manitoba stops identifying most close contacts as COVID-19 infections surge' Manitoba stops identifying most close contacts as COVID-19 infections surge
Manitoba stops identifying most close contacts as COVID-19 infections surge – Dec 20, 2021

Ashley Hart, past president of Pharmacists Manitoba says pharmacists are  having a hard time finding at-home tests to stock their shelves with too.

Hart says pharmacists are also in a difficult position of trying to decide whether or not to order tests to sell while not knowing if provincial government will eventually give them away for free.

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Read more: Surge of COVID-19 infections continues as Manitoba reports 302 new cases

“This is a juggling act,” she said.

Hart says many, if not all, pharmacies will have rapid tests normally reserved for travelers – the ones that need to be done at the pharmacy  — that  can also be used by those looking for reassurance before a family get-together.

Click to play video: 'Manitoba parents keeping students home amid rising cases, Omicron concerns' Manitoba parents keeping students home amid rising cases, Omicron concerns
Manitoba parents keeping students home amid rising cases, Omicron concerns – Dec 20, 2021

But instead of the $10-15 cost of an at-home test, the pharmacy tests come with a price tag in the $40-range.

“If you just wanted a peace of mind test, you could and you would receive the same kind of service with the documentation as you would for travel, for example,” Hart said.

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Read more: Manitoba reports highest fourth wave daily COVID-19 case count for 2nd day in a row

“I don’t want to make this sound like a money grab, but unfortunately, that’s all that I know is available for sure right now to the public.

“There might be some pharmacies that have access to some tests that are available for direct sale to the public (but) it’s just a matter of trying to to find them.”

— with files from Brittany Greenslade

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

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To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out. In situations where you can’t keep a safe distance from others, public health officials recommend the use of a non-medical face mask or covering to prevent spreading the respiratory droplets that can carry the virus. In some provinces and municipalities across the country, masks or face coverings are now mandatory in indoor public spaces.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, visit our coronavirus page.

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