Health officials are walking back claims they made last week about the deployment of rapid antigen tests to long term care homes as well as the number of PCR tests that are being conducted at provincial testing sites.
On Friday, Health Minister Adrian Dix said 200,000 rapid tests were deployed to care homes, but on the same day, Island Health reported its supplies were running low.
The health authority advised care home operators to “prioritize their current supply of rapid tests to ensure they are able to accommodate all essential visitors until further supply and timing of delivery is confirmed.”
On Tuesday, Dix did not answer whether other health regions were running low on test kits but insisted it was a short-term problem.
“If there are short-term concerns I’ll be happy to look into that, but I think those supplies are going to be in place,” he said. “I expect those rapid tests will be distributed where there may be an interim supply problem, but I think the supply issue should largely be resolved soon.”
Provincial Health Officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, said rapid tests were being delivered to care homes “as we speak,” but did not address numbers or whether visits to long term care homes by essential visitors could be curtailed if supplies run out.
On Tuesday, Henry extended until Feb. 16 the restrictions that limit care home visitors. Only essential visitors are permitted. Those visitors must have a rapid test before each visit, but workers in care homes are not tested unless they show up to work with symptoms.
Currently, there are 43 long term care homes with COVID-19 outbreaks in B.C., but Henry said the severity of illness has been reduced because most residents have received their booster shots. It’s not known how many long term care workers have received theirs.
B.C.’s strategy for deploying rapid tests is also affecting how its testing centres are being used.
Last month, Henry announced that rapid tests would be handed out to those who were not at risk of developing serious health effects from COVID-19. The more accurate PCR tests would be reserved for health care workers who need to know whether they have the virus, which would affect whether they could return to work, and for those who have health conditions that make them more vulnerable to severe outcomes from the virus.
In subsequent weeks, Henry repeatedly referred to B.C.’s ability to do 20,000 PCR tests daily. On Friday she pointed to PCR test results in modelling, which the province is relying on to make orders and to analyze the spread of the Omicron variant since contact tracing is no longer performed.
“We’ve been at the capacity of our PCR tests for a number of weeks now as Omicron has really transmitted in our communities,” Henry said at the time.
However, data from the B.C. Centre for Disease Control show the 20,000 daily test capacity was met just once in December. On Sunday, fewer than 10,000 PCR tests were conducted.
On Tuesday Henry clarified that B.C. is doing far fewer PCR tests than its 20,000 maximum to ensure test results are returned quickly.
“It is really prioritizing where we’re using that scarce resource and not going up to 20,000 (PCR tests) a day does give our lab the ability to process faster,” Henry said Tuesday. “It is finding that right balance of who needs a test.”
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