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