British Columbia

Drive-thru COVID-19 testing now offered for health-care workers in Vancouver

Health care workers are being tested for COVID-19 at an assessment site in Vancouver where they can be swabbed without having to leave their vehicles.

'Health care workers are really the heart of our response to this pandemic,' says provincial health officer

Vancouverp police officers direct traffic at a COVID-19 assessment centre for health care workers in Vancouver on Monday, March 23, 2020. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Health-care workers can now access drive-thru testing for the COVID-19 virus at an assessment site in Vancouver, where they can be swabbed without having to leave their vehicles.

The site, near B.C. Women's Hospital, has been running for several days — one of a number of measures health officials are using to minimize the risk that doctors, nurses and anyone working in a health-care facility comes down with COVID-19.

"Health-care workers are really the heart of our response to this pandemic and they face risks both in the community and at work," said provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry at a press conference earlier this week.

She added that an official order is soon coming that would ensure workers are assigned to a single facility in order to prevent spread.

Who is being tested

The assessment site at West 33rd Avenue and Willow Street is reserved for testing health-care employees and community health-care providers. This includes workers like doctors and nurses involved in direct patient care, but also support staff critical to supporting patient care delivery.

Because of limited resources, B.C. is prioritizing tests for certain groups: people with respiratory symptoms who are hospitalized or likely to be hospitalized, residents of long-term care facilities, individuals who are part of an investigation of a cluster or outbreak, and health-care workers.

"This allows us to continue to widely test anybody for whom we don't know where they were exposed to this," said Henry about prioritizing testing on Tuesday. "It also means that we can aggressively test health-care workers"

B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Tuesday the backlog of COVID-19 test results had been cleared. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

In order to prioritize health-care workers, their tests are labelled LCTF (for long term care facility), HCW (for health-care worker), or HOSP (for hospital).

Health professionals call for stricter measures

Tuesday, Health Minister Adrian Dix added that health-care workers are frequently exposed to the virus that causes COVID-19 in their communities and that it's critical for everyone to limit the pandemic's spread by following social distancing measures, which means staying at least two metres away from anyone outside their household.

Watch Dr. Bonnie Henry and B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix demonstrate social distancing

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Dr. Bonnie Henry shows how to practise physical distancing.

Doctors at some of Metro Vancouver's busiest hospitals have asked the provincial health officer days ago to go further and lockdown entire communities.

Several nurses have also taken to social media to warn people to stay home or to ask for medical supplies, but health officials say not all the claims are accurate and can stoke fear. 

Preventing transmission among health care workers

Health-care facilities are implementing protocols to minimize the risk that staff are infected in the workplace.

"We will be screening long-term care workers as they come into work every day and providing clear guidance on the use of personal protective equipment," said Henry.

Health-care workers are required to wear specific personal protective equipment (PPE) that includes gown, gloves, a mask and eye protection. They don't need to wear an N95 mask for administering swabs, but the N95 is recommended for aerosolizing procedures, like inserting a tube in a patient's airway to place them on a ventillator.

Health care workers are required to wear specific personal protective equipment to minimize the risk of contracting the COVID-19 virus. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

Staff and volunteers at long-term care facilities, excluding physicians, paramedics and laboratory technicians, are already prohibited from working at more than one health care facility.

Those facilities also have to carry out enhanced cleaning and enhanced screening of staff, contractors and visitors.

The B.C. Centre for Disease Control says that cleaning products and disinfectants that are regularly used in hospitals and health care settings are already strong enough to deactivate coronaviruses and prevent their spread. 

The centre is also asking people to self-monitor their health and "to apply a low threshold when feeling unwell to stay home until they are better."