Manitoba

Manitoba set to begin rapid COVID-19 testing

Manitoba has launched a plan to begin rapid testing for COVID-19, first targeting remote and northern communities in the province as well as the most vulnerable people.

2 rapid testing devices going to St. Boniface, others to remote and northern communities

Most of the new rapid testing devices in Manitoba will be located in remote communities, including Swan River, The Pas, Churchill, Thompson, Lynn Lake, Gillam and Flin Flon. (Carlos Osorio/AP Photo)

Manitoba has launched a plan to begin rapid testing for COVID-19, first targeting remote and northern communities in the province, as well as those deemed to be most vulnerable.

Two of the province's new rapid testing devices will also be sent to St. Boniface Hospital in Winnipeg, to respond to a COVID-19 outbreak there that had infected 25 patients and 15 staff as of Tuesday.

Manitoba has just received 13 of the devices, called the Abbott ID NOW, along with enough supplies for more than 4,000 tests, according to a Tuesday news release.

The units are being distributed across the province this week and testing will begin once health-care providers and other key partners have received the necessary training.

"Now that our initial shipment of these rapid testing units has arrived, we are taking strategic action to put these resources where they can benefit our public health response the most," Premier Brian Pallister said in the news release.

"This plan will support some of Manitoba's more vulnerable communities and ensure our province is well positioned to respond to the challenges of this virus."

Two units will be sent to Winnipeg's St. Boniface Hospital for the outbreak happening there. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

Based on public health advice, most of the rapid testing devices will be located in remote communities — including Swan River, The Pas, Churchill, Thompson, Lynn Lake, Gillam and Flin Flon — where delays due to transportation issues, weather or other factors can affect access to traditional testing.

These communities also have existing lab infrastructure, which is needed for rapid tests, the provincial news release said.

Remaining units will be deployed by the province as they become available in response to future outbreaks or other emerging needs, the release states.

Health-care providers will follow provincial guidance on when a rapid test is appropriate or may be valuable as an early screening tool to identify possible outbreaks as quickly as possible.

There have been growing frustrations over the past month about the delays in getting COVID-19 test results back.

"It is clear that public health is overwhelmed, lacks the power to complete timely contact tracing, and is unable to provide timely results because testing capacity has been overwhelmed," says a letter, signed by more than 200 doctors and dated Nov. 1, that was sent to Pallister calling for emergency funding to deal with the spike in cases.

Rapid tests are done with a nasal swab and can only be administered by a medical professional or trained operator in a laboratory or other medical setting. While they provide almost immediate results, they can be less accurate, the province said.

False negatives are more common so all rapid tests still must be confirmed by traditional testing.

As well, rapid tests cannot replace traditional COVID-19 testing in all circumstances because they can only be used if a person has symptoms.

The province has also received 87,000 Panbio antigen tests, which can produce results in less than 20 minutes. They would be used as a screening test, not a diagnostic test, the province says.

The use of antigen-based screening tests is still being validated by Manitoba labs in partnership with labs across the country, including the National Microbiology Laboratory, to determine their accuracy, the press release said.

Those findings will help the province decide how the Panbio test will be used.

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