Alberta is expanding its rapid COVID-19 testing program to seniors facilities and rural hospitals across the province, Health Minister Tyler Shandro announced on Thursday morning.
Rapid testing will be available to residents of long-term care and support-living facilities who are within the first seven days of showing symptoms. Testing using mobile testing centres will start in Edmonton facilities this week, then move on to Calgary beginning next week and will expand soon after across the province.
“It means we can identify positive cases within hours,” said Shandro in a news conference.
Testing will be further expanded later this month and into January at 25 rural hospitals in the north, central and south zones. In central Alberta, hospitals in Rocky Mountain House, Castor and Coronation will get point-of-care testing, improving on a system that currently requires all patient samples to be sent to centralized public laboratories for analysis.
Hospitals in Drumheller, Wetaskiwin and Drayton Valley are also part of Alberta Health Services Central Zone and will get rapid testing.
Shandro said the 25 sites were chosen based on their location and transport time required to get tests analyzed, test volumes and community needs.
“The expansion of rapid testing means we can notify health care teams sooner to prioritize those who are still infectious,” said Shandro, adding it will also free up capacity in testing labs.
The expansion of rapid testing systems to new locations across the province will provide faster and more convenient testing to identify and isolate positive cases quicker than has been possible previously, says Alberta Health.
More than 1,000 people have received the rapid tests at assessment centres and hospital locations to date, including 76 positive cases who were notified about their result in a matter of hours.
Dr. Will Stokes said the rapid tests have proven effective in identifying COVID cases, “especially in people with symptoms and signs of COVID-19 infection.
“Speeding up the identification of positive COVID-19 cases using these rapid tests is important to contain the spread of the virus in our communities. It will also help alleviate some of the pressures we face at the provincial laboratory.”
Asymptomatic people will not get rapid testing at this time because of the possibility of getting a negative result when the person actually is positive with a low level of COVID and still able to infect others.
Expansion of the rapid-testing clinical pilot began during the week of Dec. 7 with the deployment of systems at the first non-Alberta Health Services sites – Calgary’s Drop-In Centre and Edmonton’s isolation facility – where staff nurses have been trained to use the systems with homeless shelter clients who are difficult to reach through the existing COVID-19 testing program.
Work is underway to bring the systems to more homeless shelters in urban and rural locations in the coming weeks.
Since March, Alberta has completed more than 2.5 million COVID tests on 1.5 million people.