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Rapid COVID-19 testing in B.C. long-term care homes endorsed by SFU experts

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

Rapid-testing of all visitors could reduce exposures introduced by them by as much as 90 per cent

Testing every three days could mean 45 to 55 per cent reduction in the number of outbreaks that originate with staff

BURNABY (NEWS 1130) — With new variants of COVID-19 circulating, experts at Simon Fraser University are urging rapid testing for all visitors and staff in long-term care homes, saying modelling shows this would substantially reduce transmission and outbreaks.

While everyone who lives and works in the province’s long-term care homes has been offered the vaccine, researchers say testing is a tool the province should be using particularly to identify asymptomatic cases

According to Paul Tupper, professor of mathematics, modelling shows rapid-testing of all visitors could reduce exposures from them by as much as 90 per cent.

“What we showed is that rapid testing used with staff and visitors can be very effective at reducing the number of outbreaks or number of transmissions that thre will be in long term care,” he says.

“Most most people who get COVID do have symptoms but there’s a number of people that don’t 20 per cent or so. Then there’s also the unfortunate fact that even people who do develop symptoms, they have between one and three days beforehand where they’re infectious. What’s happening is that people without symptoms are entering long-term care and then they’re transmitting COVID.”

Tupper says modelling shows that testing staff instead of screening them for symptoms could lead to a 45 to 55 per cent reduction in the number of outbreaks that originate with cases among staff.

Research shows, according to Tupper, these tests are highly per effective.

“Right now with someone who has no symptoms, we’re doing nothing we just let them go and we have no way of detecting whether they have COVID or not. So it’s better to catch 90 per cent of the cases coming in, rather than zero.”

Concerns about how to keep the virus out of long-term care have been heightened with the discovery of more transmissible variants.

“These new variants, they’re very bad news. It’s going to be much more infectious. If they take hold in B.C., rates of COVID in the community are going to be higher and that means more likely that people are going to bring COVID into long- term care, so that’s bad news. if there is a case of COVID in the long term care and it’s one of these more infectious varieties, then that means it’ll spread more easily,” Tupper says.


Earlier this month, Dr. Bonnie Henry said there are some pilot projects when it comes to rapid testing in long-term care homes, but there is not currently a plan to expand access.

“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.”

The BC Care Providers Association and the province’s seniors advocate have been calling for rapid tests, saying even with widespread vaccination, the risk to vulnerable seniors remains high.

In 2020, 70 per cent of people who died from COVID-19 in B.C. were seniors in long-term care.

With files from Marcella Bernardo