Alberta expands zone of Rapid COVID-19 pilot testing program

The concept of this rapid screening is aimed at people who have had symptoms for less than seven days. (Jeff Chiu Associated Press)

By Hélène Lequitte, Initiative de journalisme local/Le Devoir

Starting Friday, Alberta expanded its outreach on a rapid test pilot project, which began last month. The objective: to meet the needs of the most vulnerable people in remote areas of the province. 

Last November, Alberta was already planning the distribution of 100,000 rapid test kits provided by the pharmaceutical company Abbott Rapid Diagnostics. The Canadian Public Health Agency has since provided 800,000 more to the province.  The concept of this rapid screening is aimed at people who have had symptoms for less than seven days. The results are known after 20 minutes.

Efficient, but not reliable in all cases.

Indeed, their reliability remains inoperative on asymptomatic people. Only trained personnel may be able to administer it.  The purpose of this program has a dual purpose: to alleviate demands for so-called traditional tests and to allow those close to those infected with COVID-19 to isolate themselves more quickly.  Although Alberta is relying heavily on the first doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which arrived at the start of the week, screening remains a priority in order to contain the spread of the virus in the province to the 19,865 active cases, according to the Friday 18 report. December.

The Western Province recorded a slight drop in its curve, falling below the 20,000 mark, or about a point lower. 

“Bringing rapid testing directly to where it can help protect the health of Albertans most vulnerable is an important addition to our provincial testing system,” said Health Minister Tyler Shandro. 

As of March 2020, Alberta has performed 2.5 million tests on more than 1.5 million people.

Reaching so-called at-risk populations 

As of now, mobile units are working to provide testing in long-term care facilities and some clinics in the Edmonton area. 

These tests will also be available over the next few weeks in nearly 25 rural hospitals, including Cardston, Pincher Creek, Brooks, Oyen, Wetaskiwin, Drayton Valley, Drumheller, Rocky Mountain House, Castor, Coronation, Wabasca, Edson, Cold Lake, St. Paul, Elk Point, Peace River, Westlock, Barrhead, Provost, Lac La Biche, Camrose, Wainwright, Hinton, Two Hills and Vegreville. 

“Our integrated provincial laboratory service allows us to rapidly implement and expand the use of new equipment and processes for the benefit of all Albertans,” said Mauro Chies, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Alberta Precision Laboratories as well as Vice President of Cancer Care Alberta and Clinical Support Services at Alberta Health Services. 

In principle, starting Monday, these mobile teams will also be deployed in the Calgary area and will focus on the outbreak sites as a priority. The nurses have received specific training to pass the tests to the most disadvantaged, especially the homeless, a population considered particularly at risk for the COVID-19 virus and very difficult to reach.  This test is also a definite asset for protecting healthcare workers and monitoring its spread within the medical team. Many doctors and nurses return home afraid of reluctantly bringing the virus back to their loved ones.

“In-house COVID-19 testing is extremely useful in monitoring the health of our clients and protecting our staff and the public as we manage outbreaks at our facility,” said Sandra Clarkson, Executive Director, Calgary Drop-In Center. 

For the moment, the analyzes of the screening tests will have to go through Calgary and Edmonton. A process, which generates a certain delay in the disclosure of the results. 

According to provincial figures, more than 1,000 people have already benefited from rapid tests in assessment centers and hospitals. In a few hours, 76 positive cases were detected thanks to this initiative.