Alberta is introducing rapid testing for COVID-19 at long-term care and designated supportive living facilities, which have been hit particularly hard by outbreaks of the deadly virus.
Health Minister Tyler Shandro announced Thursday morning mobile rapid testing centres would conduct testing at sites in the Edmonton region starting Friday before expanding to the Calgary area the week of Dec. 21.
Testing will be conducted at sites with identified outbreaks as well as those deemed to have potential for an outbreak.
“This means that we can identify positive cases within hours,” Shandro said. “Expansion of rapid testing means that we can notify health-care teams sooner to prioritize folks who are still infectious.”
Long-term care and supportive living sites have been home to many of Alberta’s most devastating COVID-19 outbreaks during the pandemic. Calgary’s Clifton Manor is home to the city’s deadliest ongoing outbreak, with 16 deaths reported to date.
As of Monday, there were 48 active outbreaks at these facilities in the Alberta Health Services Calgary zone, accounting for 279 active cases. Updated statistics were not immediately available.
A recent study commissioned by long-term care operator Revera released last week recommended regular, proactive testing of staff and residents, leading to calls for the UCP government to introduce regular rapid testing at the sites.
Mobile testing centres were developed in a private-sector partnership and will use rapid-test kits manufactured by Abbott IDNow and PanBio. They will test Albertans who have exhibited symptoms of COVID-19 for fewer than seven days.
AHS physician Dr. William Stokes said medical teams have worked to ensure these two rapid-test kits are effective at identifying COVID-19 infections. He said PCR tests, which the province has used since the onset of the pandemic, will continue as usual.
“It will also help alleviate some of the pressure that we face at the laboratories,” Stokes said. “It will have even more importance as we roll out more of these tests across the province.”
Expansion of rapid-testing at long-term care sites outside of Alberta’s two largest cities will begin “shortly after” the tests come to the AHS Calgary zone.
As well, Shandro said rapid tests will be deployed to 25 rural hospitals across the North, Central and South AHS zones for the remainder of December and part of January. Currently, tests from these remote regions must be transported to central laboratories for processing.
The news follows a pilot program started in late November that saw rapid testing deployed at assessment centres in Calgary and Edmonton, among other locations. That program was expanded to Calgary’s Drop-in Centre and Edmonton’s isolation facility the week of Dec. 7.
That pilot program was a success, Shandro said, detecting 67 positive cases of COVID-19 from more than 1,000 tests.
Stokes said he was confident expanding rapid testing further would help protect vulnerable Albertans.
“Introducing rapid COVID-19 tests such as the IDNow at places that have the highest-risk populations of outbreaks… is a top priority because we know it will have an immediate impact in protecting the health of people who have the highest risk of infections and those who are hard to reach,” stokes said.