Edmonton

Delivery of rapid test kits from Ottawa delayed, Dr. Deena Hinshaw says 

An anticipated delivery of at-home rapid tests from Ottawa has been delayed, leaving pharmacy shelves bare as Alberta cuts back on the availability of lab-based testing.

Supplies of the swabs have been running low for weeks

An expected delivery of at-home rapid COVID-19 tests to Alberta from the federal government and manufacturers has been delayed, leaving supply of the swabs critically low. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

An anticipated delivery of at-home rapid tests from Ottawa has been delayed, leaving pharmacy shelves bare as Alberta cuts back on the availability of lab-based testing.

"Alberta Health has learned that the expected supply of at-home rapid COVID-19 tests has been delayed from the federal government and manufacturers," Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, said Tuesday on Twitter.

"Alberta Health is working hard to obtain more supply as soon as possible."

Hinshaw didn't say when more swabs are expected to arrive or whether the delayed delivery would stall distribution of the kits in Alberta classrooms.

The province had promised that 4.3 million tests would be delivered to K-12 schools this week, with another 4.3 million to follow later this month. Together, the 8.6 million tests for schools are part of a supply of 15 million tests the government said would be available across the province in January.

Alberta is now rationing PCR tests, meaning most Albertans will have to rely on at-home rapid tests for proof of COVID-19 infection.But the free kits have been hard to come by. 

Omicron and escalating demand

Alberta is not alone in struggling with supply. 

Demand for rapid tests has surged and Ottawa is working to catch up, Public Services and Procurement Minister Filomena Tassi said Wednesday.

"Up until the beginning of January, we had procured and delivered every test the provinces and territories were asking for," Tassi told a news conference. "With the onset of Omicron in December, those requests escalated."

Tassi said her team is in regular contact with Canada's suppliers to ensure the increasing demand is met. About 140 million rapid tests will be distributed across the country this month, she said.

"We are in the process of doing everything we can to secure as many rapid tests as possible because we know this is a very valuable tool for provinces and territories.

"This is a very competitive market and there are issues with respect to the supply chain."

Alberta rations PCR testing

Alberta's rapid tests are being distributed on a first-come, first-served basis at select pharmacies in Edmonton, Calgary and Red Deer, and at Alberta Health Services sites in other communities across the province.

Since they were first made available to the public ahead of the holidays, the kits have disappeared quickly from pharmacy shelves, and many Albertans remain on the hunt for the coveted swabs. 

The latest shortage comes as K-12 students return to the classroom and a wave of Omicron cases pushes provincial labs beyond capacity. 

Watch: How to administer a rapid test 

How to use a take home COVID-19 test kit

5 months ago
Duration 1:51
With the province releasing home rapid COVID-19 test kits, Edmonton pharmacist Shivali Sharma shows CBC’s Pippa Reed how to use one properly.

Alberta Health said last week that the province had confirmed shipping dates for at least four million rapid tests from the federal government.

On Jan. 4, Alberta Health spokesperson Christa Jubinville said supplies were expected to remain low in the first part of January due to anticipated delivery dates from manufacturers and Health Canada. She said additional supply would be available to ship to pharmacies the week of Jan. 17.

On Monday, Hinshaw announced that the availability of PCR tests would be increasingly limited. 

Alberta is now reserving PCR testing for people with risk factors for severe outcomes and those who live or work in high-risk settings.

Other Albertans who develop COVID-19 symptoms are being told to assume they have Omicron and isolate as required.

'Begging friends' for swabs

Searching in vain for the swabs was frustrating, said Rhonda Scheurer. The Edmonton woman said she initially dragged her heels on getting a kit but soon regretted it.

She visited several pharmacies while in Red Deer over the holidays and continued the search in Edmonton after returning home on Boxing Day.

"As soon as we turned up symptomatic, I was like, 'Oh my God,' we don't have any. I don't know how we're going to get some," Scheurer said. "It sort of went from zero to 60 really quickly." 

When Scheurer and her husband started feeling unwell, she posted on social media, asking if anyone had a kit to spare.

Scheurer said her "begging friends" tactics paid off and she got a kit last week. She and her husband tested negative but she remains frustrated with the lack of testing.

The province should be doing more to ensure it has accurate data on transmission, Scheurer said. 

"It compromises our reporting. And it also, I think, opens up the door for the misinformation around our cases."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Wallis Snowdon is a journalist with CBC Edmonton focused on bringing stories to the website and the airwaves. She loves helping people tell their stories on issues ranging from health care to the courts. Originally from New Brunswick, Wallis has reported in communities across Canada, from Halifax to Fort McMurray. She previously worked as a digital and current affairs producer with CBC Radio in Edmonton. Wallis has a bachelor of journalism (honours) from the University of King's College in Halifax, N.S.. Share your stories with Wallis at wallis.snowdon@cbc.ca

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