Alberta announces further expansion of COVID-19 rapid testing

Alberta is expanding its rapid testing program for COVID-19 to asymptomatic staff at all long-term care and supportive living facilities in the province. The government is also providing test kits for a pilot project at Suncor.

Rapid tests can deliver results within 20 minutes

Health Minster Tyler Shandro is announcing another expansion of rapid testing for COVID-19. (CBC)

Alberta plans to provide rapid testing kits for COVID-19 so long-term care and supportive living facilities can perform routine screening on all staff even if they do not have symptoms.

Early detection of cases will protect people who live in the facilities, Dr. Mark Joffe, a vice-president and medical director at Alberta Health Services, said at a news conference Tuesday.

"This will go a long way to preventing outbreaks from starting and ensuring that those who care for the most vulnerable members of our community are not inadvertently introducing the virus into their workplaces," Joffe said. 

Staff will be given a rapid test once a week. If cases in the surrounding community have a positivity rate of five per cent or higher, testing will be administered twice a week. Anyone with a positive result will go into isolation immediately and receive the standard polymerase chain-reaction (PCR) test for confirmation. 

Health Minister Tyler Shandro announced the province has also provided 7,000 rapid test kits for a pilot project at Suncor's base plant in Fort McMurray and in nearby Fort McKay. About 325 workers will be tested twice a week for 10 weeks. 

Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley said her caucus called for screening of asymptomatic workers in long-term care and designated supportive homes two months ago and she was pleased the province was taking action. 

As for the Suncor pilot project, Notley said she supports the use of rapid testing at work sites. However, with COVID-19 outbreaks at Cargill in High River and Olymel in Red Deer, she wondered why the province wasn't deploying the tests at meatpacking plants. 

"That's where we know we have extremely dangerous outbreaks happening over and over and over, indeed, outbreaks leading to death," she said.

In December, Alberta expanded rapid testing to urban homeless shelters, rural hospitals and long-term care and designated supportive living facilities at risk of an outbreak. The tests were first used on a limited scale at the Calgary Drop-In Centre and an isolation facility in Edmonton.

Rapid tests have also been deployed at 33 COVID-19 assessment centres in Alberta.

Rapid tests can deliver results in 20 minutes, compared to the PCR test, which can take hours or days.

The province received more than 800,000 rapid tests from the Public Health Agency of Canada last year.


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