B.C. to announce new COVID-19 rapid test strategy this week

B.C. to announce new COVID-19 rapid test strategy this week
B.C. will be announcing a new rapid test strategy on Tuesday following weeks of pressure to make them more widely available to the public. (Photo credit: Mika Baumeister/Unsplash)

It appears the B.C. government will be changing its approach to rapid testing.

After weeks of growing pressure, Dr. Bonnie Henry, the provincial health officer, said during a press conference Friday that rapid tests will become “more available” in B.C. and that details of their availability will be made public Tuesday.

“We are in a situation where we have certain types of tests,” she said. “We are working on how to make them more available and we are going to be talking about that in more detail on Tuesday. I can’t tell you things that are not yet worked out.”

B.C. has still only used slightly less than 10 per cent of the rapid test kits provided to them by the federal government.

According to the newest Health Canada data current to Dec. 10, British Columbia has received a total of 3,399,612 rapid tests but only used 326,019 (9.58%) of them, despite deploying 1,261,098 tests province-wide.

B.C. has not made rapid tests more widely available to the general public, despite increased pressure and growing calls from medical experts, particularly over the past week as new infections soared to record levels on Vancouver Island.

Dr. Victor Leung, an infectious diseases physician and medical microbiologist in the Lower Mainland, recently told CHEK News that the provincial government’s handling of rapid tests has been inconsistent.

“The response from the provincial government and the public health teams with respect to rapid antigen tests does not make a lot of sense and it also seems that the answers shift in terms of why we’re not using them. It is not very consistent,” he said.

Health officials’ rationale, which hasn’t been very clear, for not doing making them more available has varied from downplaying their effectiveness to saying they don’t prevent transmission.

RELATED: Doctors skeptical of B.C.’s rapid test strategy, question Henry’s rationale

During Friday’s press conference, Dr. Henry was asked once again why rapid tests aren’t more widely available to the general public.

“We can’t make things available that we don’t have,” said Henry. “So, we are working on that.”

What exactly Henry meant by that statement is not entirely clear because she did not elaborate. Out of the 1,261,098 that have been distributed, 935,079 tests are still available.

The province’s top doctor also said Friday that rapid tests aren’t going to solve everything.

“I think we need to be careful about fixating on one thing or another thing as being an answer. They are part of the answer and there is an important role for rapid tests and we are changing our focus on that and we will have more to say on that,” she said.

RELATED: B.C. has used less than 10% of its rapid antigen tests, officials say they don’t prevent transmission

In a statement to CHEK News, the Ministry of Health said that more than 550,000 rapid tests have been used in B.C. — a number that is 223,981 tests higher than the Dec. 10 figure presented on Health Canada’s website.

“We’ve used more than 550,000 rapid tests in B.C. and are using about 35,000 a week right now. Our rapid testing strategy is expanding and we are reviewing our capacity to do PCR testing, the gold standard test. We’ve expanded the capacity of our system to do roughly 20,600 PCR tests a day,” the statement reads.

The Ministry also reiterated that details about the province’s rapid test plan, including how they intend to use the tests they currently have, will be made publicly available on Tuesday.

“We’ll be laying out our rapid testing plan on Tuesday in terms of how we intend to use the tests we currently have in our inventory, and how we will enhance our strategy by using more self-tests.”

One such part of that strategy appears to be converting some of the tests they’ve received into at-home self-tests while waiting for more tests from the federal government.

“We are also working with the federal government to access British Columbia’s share (13.5%) of any rapid tests that become available,” the statement reads. “Meanwhile, work is also underway to convert some of the rapid tests we currently have into self-tests for home use. And we are expecting a supply of home tests from the federal government in mid-late January.”

No specific time for Tuesday’s announcement about rapid tests has been given.

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Nicholas PescodNicholas Pescod

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