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BC Care Providers push for more COVID-19 testing in long-term care, say outbreak risk remains high

Last Updated Jan 18, 2021 at 6:52 pm PDT

FILE -- COVID-19 Antigen Rapid Test (SARS-CoV-2) at Clinical Microbiology at SUS (Skane University Hospital) in Lund. The test is performed by healthcare professionals who take a sample from the back of the nasal wall using a swab stick. The sample is then placed in a test tube with liquid. The test result is ready in approximately 15 minutes. Photo: Johan Nilsson / TT / Code 50090

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — Even with widespread vaccination, the risk remains high that vulnerable seniors will be exposed to COVID-19 by staff or visitors who haven’t been immunized, says the head of BC Care Providers who is pushing for more testing.

CEO of the BC Care Providers Terry Lake says he supports rapid testing to prevent outbreaks like the one that killed 41 residents of Vancouver’s Little Mountain Place.

“What we still need to be concerned about are those people who are unvaccinated. Staff working in these vulnerable settings or visitors. I think it’s an important addition to the screening that we’re doing already that could protect vulnerable seniors.”

He says some members of his organization have taken it upon themselves to start rapid testing programs.

“But it’s far better to have it in conjunction with health authorities because, you know, you’re always concerned about protocols, about potential liabilities and, in fact, there’s 1.2-million of these tests that are already paid for sitting in boxes here in B.C.”

Health Minister Adrian Dix and Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry have turned down past requests from Lake and Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie because they don’t think rapid testing is accurate and don’t want to waste time checking on workers who don’t have symptoms.

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Henry said Monday that there are some pilot projects when it comes to rapid testing in long-term care homes.

“What the pilot projects have shown is what we thought all along. These are very resource-intensive,” she said, explaining the tests take multiple people and about 15 minutes per test.

She said even doing these tests one day a week has been very challenging and the tests cannot take the place of medical screening.

“So it is a tool that takes a lot of energy and a lot of human resource time,” Henry said. “And it is the opinion of most of my colleagues across the country and here in B.C., that the resources that we have that are scarce around supporting infection prevention and control in long-term care is most often better spent on other measures.”

Lake argues the rapid tests are still helpful when it comes to overall screening of people who may not have symptoms of the virus.

“There’s been mixed messages in terms of what an essential visitor is, for instance. Residents have been separated from their families for almost a year now and there’s no evidence to show that visitors are bringing in the virus anyways, so we’ve got a policy that’s cruel and isn’t accomplishing what it’s set out to do.”

Henry said long-term care home visits should be able to resume in about two months.

“We’re looking at into the latter part of March, but we are making plans for how we can get people safely together as soon as we can in care homes.”