Official Opposition calls for increased access to COVID-19 rapid test kits
P.E.I.'s Official Opposition is calling on the government to provide increased access to rapid at-home COVID-19 test kits for Islanders and visitors.
The Green Party says increased use of rapid test kits on the Island could ease some of the pressure at the province's testing clinics. Last Thursday, some Islanders had to wait up to three hours in line at testing sites.
Green MLA and Opposition health critic Michele Beaton said she's worried those testing lines will only get longer with the holiday season approaching and the omicron variant being detected in P.E.I.
Beaton said the province could give rapid test kits to travellers entering the Island so they can take a test at home on days four and eight after their arrival, rather than joining the line at a clinic.
"If you have people that aren't symptomatic, let's pull them out of the system so the people that are symptomatic will stay in that line," said Beaton.
"It'll be shorter, and they will get tested, because those are the people we definitely need to catch.
"We're also reducing the pressure and workloads on the people administering those tests."
Rapid test kits are now being more widely distributed in some provinces. In Nova Scotia, free at-home test kits are now available for the holiday season at all public libraries.
Limitations to rapid test kits
At a public health briefing Tuesday afternoon, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Heather Morrison said the province has been making good use of its at-home test supply.
Recently, schools facing outbreaks have handed rapid tests to students to take each morning.
When the testing line has been long at the Confederation Bridge, some travellers have been given rapid tests to take at home instead of swabbing them upon entry to the Island.
Morrison said the province is looking to increase its supply of at-home tests and offer them in more scenarios. However, there's no firm plan in place yet.
Morrison cautioned that the rapid tests are not as accurate as the PCR tests offered at testing clinics.
"If you're using a test that is 49 to 53 per cent sensitive on an asymptomatic person, it can also provide a false sense of security," Morrison said. "Sometimes if people are doing that test and think they're fine, but half the time they're wrong.
"I think there are limitations. I think [rapid tests] can be really an important adjunct to our [PCR] testing, and we will need them as we go into this omicron variant wave."
Morrison said the best way to keep lines short is to ensure omicron doesn't get out of control, which is why the province announced new restrictions Tuesday, including stricter gathering limits.
Beaton said she agrees that rapid test kits are less sensitive than PCR tests, but they can still provide "another layer of protection for Islanders."
According to Beaton, the province should "provide clear messaging" so Islanders and visitors know where and when they can access rapid tests.
"I didn't hear that message today."
With files from Steve Bruce