Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says British Columbia “is looking at all the options” to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in care homes, including the mass testing of workers.
At present, long-term care staff are only tested for the virus if they are showing symptoms or if they have had a close contact with someone who has tested positive.
The province rejected the idea of mass testing in the past, but is more willing to consider using a PCR lab test, seen as the gold standard.
“I will say that all of these take resources, and do we have 600 nurses go to each of our care homes to do the testing?” Henry said at a news conference on Monday.
“We can divide it up so there’s maybe not that many. Or do we focus on some of the other important issues like reinforcing the screening and the infection control measures within the facilities?”
The other kind of COVID-19 test, known as a rapid test which provide results in as little as 15 minutes, can help identify staff members who are asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic, but they are less reliable to the PCR lab test.
Seniors’ advocate Isobel Mackenzie has repeatedly called on the government to consider wider testing for staff at care homes, which are linked to more than 60 per cent of B.C.’s pandemic-related deaths.
“Maybe we should be testing, even if we use the PCR test twice a week like we do with hockey players and the film industry,” Mackenzie said.
“Or we could do the rapid testing every second day. Those are reasonable steps to think we ought to be taking considering all the other circumstances that are existing around COVID.”
Mackenzie said more than 70 per cent of outbreaks in the first wave of the pandemic resulted in no deaths in care homes.
Even in October, there were 25 care facilities with at least one positive case of COVID-19, five with one death, and two with 10 or more deaths.
But as of last week, 43 homes had reported a case of the virus and 30 of them had recorded at least one death. Of those 30, 15 facilities had recorded 10 or more deaths.
“We are not picking up that index case early on. By the time we are picking up that first COVID test, it has already spread,” Mackenzie said.
“That means the person was contagious at the work site and if they were contagious, the tests would have picked it up.”
Henry said the spread reflects what is being seen in the community in the second wave.
“What we need to do is step up again our personal protective equipment, making sure that people know how to use it appropriately, doing that active screening every day when you go into work,” Henry said.
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