Manitoba

Rapid COVID-19 testing now available in parts of northern Manitoba

The federal and provincial governments are working to ramp up COVID-19 testing in northern Manitoba by providing rapid-testing machines to four health-care facilities.

GeneXpert rapid testing machines in Norway House Cree Nation, Peguis First Nation, Thompson, The Pas

The GeneXpert testing system can process samples in less than a hour. (Nicole Williams/CBC)

The federal and provincial governments are working to ramp up COVID-19 testing in northern Manitoba by providing rapid-testing machines to four health-care facilities.

The Public Health Agency of Canada and Manitoba Health are sending the U.S.-made GeneXpert machines to the hospitals in Norway House Cree Nation and Peguis First Nation, according to a joint news release issued on Thursday.

Another machine is on loan from Manitoba Shared Health to be used at the Thompson General Hospital. A fourth machine is destined for St. Anthony's General Hospital in The Pas, and should arrive in the coming weeks.

"This new equipment has the capability to provide a COVID-19 test result in about an hour and will be used to quickly confirm the presence of the virus in those patients who may require additional support to self-isolate," said Manitoba Health Minister Cameron Friesen in the release.

Health-care providers will use the GeneXpert test kits for patients who may not be able to self-isolate easily if they test positive and pose a higher risk of transmitting the virus.

That could include patients who are experiencing multiple symptoms associated with COVID-19, or have other factors that put them at greater risk of contracting the virus.

Patients in the north who don't fall within those categories will continue to use the existing testing procedure, which involves sending tests to Cadham and Dynacare labs for analysis.

People in remote areas benefit most from rapid testing, Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin said at a news conference on Thursday.

"In places where there might be a remote factor, where self-isolation within the community is quite difficult, there might be a significant benefit to getting a test result back right then … so we can work out ways to isolate that individual," Roussin said.

"Right now the focus for these types of testing devices are in response to, say, outbreaks in remote, isolated communities is the biggest benefit."

He isn't ruling out the broader use of rapid testing kits, though.

According to the release, Canada receives a limited supply of such devices based on their high demand, but the Public Health Agency says as more of the rapid-testing machines are available, it will consider using the rapid testing more widely.

So far, three people living in northern Manitoba have tested positive for COVID-19 since the pandemic started. All of them have recovered.

There have been no deaths associated with COVID-19 in the north Manitoba and no cases on First Nations in the province.

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