British Columbia ranks last among provinces when it comes to testing for COVID-19.
According to data available on Health Canada’s website, British Columbia’s COVID-19 testing rate is 42,608 people per million, the lowest of any province in the nation.
Only the Yukon and Nunavut have lower testing rates than B.C. Ontario has the highest testing rate in the country followed by Alberta and Prince Edward Island.
However, British Columbia has the seventh-highest reported COVID-19 infection rate in the country, despite being the third most populous province in Canada.
During Monday’s media briefing on COVID-19, Dr. Bonnie Henry, the provincial health officer, was asked about the province’s testing strategy and stressed that B.C. has been testing the right people at the right time.
“The important thing is that we are testing the right people at the right time and are able to make sure that we have access to testing available for people,” Henry said.
Data available on the BCCDC’s website shows that B.C. has conducted 253,873 tests overall while Island Health has carried out 37,199 tests for COVID-19 since the pandemic began.
Henry said the province’s lower testing rate is because there are fewer people sick with the virus.
“Quite frankly, one of the reasons why our testing rates has come down is because the transmission rate and the people who are ill with COVID have come down in our province,” she said.
B.C.’s testing capacity is currently around 8,000 per day but is expected to increase in the coming weeks. Henry said testing capacity is expanding – particularly in the Interior Health region – but not without challenges.
“There has been some challenges particularly in the Interior with large numbers of people who were exposed at a number of different events and there were some equipment challenges over the past two weekends,” she said.
“We are planning to ramp up to at least double what we are able to do now as we move into the fall.”
Early on in the pandemic, B.C. was conducting widespread testing in an effort to figure out where COVID-19 was coming from, but as the pandemic progressed, testing became more focused and targeted, said Henry.
“Once we had community spread we focused on ensuring we could test those people who we knew might have an impact on our healthcare system. So, we focused our testing and during that period of time our test positive rate went up, so we were testing the right people at the right time,” she said. “As our illness decreased and we got control of the pandemic as our curve was flattened, we went to more widespread testing again.”
Unlike other jurisdictions around the world, B.C. discourages asymptomatic individuals from being tested for COVID-19. Henry said during the update on July 27 that testing large numbers of people who aren’t showing symptoms takes time, resources and isn’t always effective.
“It has been shown around the world that doing testing of asymptomatic people who have very low risk means that you get way more false positives than anybody who truly has the disease and that creates a burden on our system and unnecessarily uses resources,” she said.
Individuals who are feeling sick can get tested for COVID-19 by booking an appointment to visit what the province calls a collection centre. It can now take as many as three to four days to get an appointment to be tested for COVID-19 in parts of the province, including Victoria.
Henry said on Monday that in the Lower Mainland the average waiting time is around 22-hours, something she would like to see come down.
“It is something we are watching very carefully,” she said.
With files from Mary Griffin
COVID-19 testing rates per one million
Ontario – 137,435
Alberta – 125,314
Prince Edward Island – 119,493
Quebec – 91,667
Saskatchewan – 68,474
Nova Scotia – 65,327
Northwest Territories – 62,397
Manitoba – 60,529 per million
New Brunswick – 58,130 per million
Newfoundland and Labrador – 45,709 per million
British Columbia – 42,608 per million
Yukon – 37,279 per million
Nunavut – 33,626 per million
Source: Health Canada