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N.W.T. rolls out rapid turnaround COVID-19 test results as it expands testing program

The number of in-territory rapid tests used for COVID-19 has been expanded, and the territory has procured additional equipment to expand this capacity further in the coming weeks, it says in a news release issued Wednesday.

Average number of tests collected weekly across the N.W.T. since the beginning of August is 175

The Northwest Territories is ramping up its testing of COVID-19 and says it will likely bring faster results. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

The Northwest Territories is ramping up its testing of COVID-19.

The number of in-territory rapid tests used for COVID-19 has been expanded, and the territory has procured additional equipment to expand this capacity further in the coming weeks, it says in a news release issued Wednesday.

The hope is this will enhance the territory's ability to detect and react to the virus.

Effective immediately, up to 240 COVID-19 tests per week in the N.W.T. may be processed in as little as 24 hours.

Factors like the transport time of tests to Stanton Territorial Hospital in Yellowknife however, will likely add to the length of time it takes for most patients receive their results. 

Previously, rapid testing was limited to select, high-priority cases.

After "careful analysis," of current territorial testing supplies, this level of testing was determined to be sustainable, the release says. The tests are set to be processed using the BioFire test platform.

Any swabs over the 240 per week will be sent to Alberta for testing, while people with more severe symptoms will be prioritized for local testing.

The average number of tests collected weekly across the N.W.T. since the beginning of August is 175, according to the territory and the maximum tests per week is 478 tests.

The health system anticipates a surge in testing in the coming weeks with return to school and the approach of cold and flu season.

"This is a good first step as we work towards getting the turnaround times we need to rapidly identify and respond to COVID-19 cases in our territory," said Julie Green, minister of Health and Social Services.

"We will continue our work to expand in-territory testing and put ourselves in a position to deliver on every COVID-19 test within our boundaries."

Four new rapid testing units are anticipated to arrive for installation by the end of the week.

In the coming weeks, the territory says it expects it will be able to move comfortably to 500 rapid, in-territory tests per week "with further expansions on-the-way as human resource and supply capacity allows."

The territory says increasing the capacity and timeliness of testing, provides better service and better positions it to consider the expansion of testing criteria and potential changes to public health guidance, the release says.

The GeneXpert testing platform in Yellowknife and Inuvik, N.W.T., will continue to be used for high-priority cases and is meant to complement the expanded capacity. That machine can return test results in roughly an hour.

Changes to self- isolation rules not likely, officials say

When asked if the new rapid testing machines could have an impact on the current 14 day self-isolation period for people entering the territory, N.W.T. Chief Public Health Officer Kami Kandola said a change isn't likely in the near future.

"The one consideration around testing is if you're testing people with no symptoms there is a higher false negative rate which means people can have the virus and not detect it," Kandola told reporters during a press conference Wednesday. 

Kandola did say the territory was doing modelling exercises to see how it could use the tests to potentially shorten the self-isolation period. 

The rapid in-territory testing expansion is part of an ongoing expansion of epidemiological surveillance to prepare the N.W.T. for an additional surge in infections of COVID-19, the release says.

The wastewater testing program announced last week is also mean to complement the expanded local diagnostic testing.

Clarifications

  • This story has been adjusted to clarify that not all patients will receive their test results within 24 hours.
    Sep 16, 2020 6:47 PM CT

With files from Hilary Bird

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