Alberta’s health minister says the province’s COVID-19 rapid testing program will be expanded to include designated supportive living facilities, long-term care centres and remote rural communities.
The initial rollout will start in the Edmonton zone on Friday, according to Tyler Shandro. Mobile testing centres are expected to be ready to deploy in the Calgary zone starting next week.
Mobile units will first be used to bring the rapid point-of-care testing to facilities with outbreaks or at risk of an outbreak, the health minister explained.
The province said rapid testing will provide faster, more convenient testing to identify cases of COVID-19 within hours. It will also help reduce the turnaround time for PCR tests in labs across the province, Shandro said.
“Alberta’s COVID-19 testing program is critical to managing and preventing the spread of the virus in our communities,” Shandro said.
“Bringing rapid point-of-care testing directly to the locations where it can help protect the health of the most vulnerable Albertans is an important addition to our provincial testing system.”
Alberta Health Services has received more than 800,000 rapid tests from the Public Health Agency of Canada.
Both the Abbott ID NOW and Abbott Panbio COVID-19 testing systems are being used on patients who are within the first seven days of expressing symptoms of COVID-19, according to the province.
Shandro said rapid point-of-care testing will also be further expanded to 25 rural hospitals in the North, Central and South zones later this month and into January.
“These new sites were chosen based on their locations in rural and remote communities,” Shandro said.
Dr. William Stokes, with Alberta Health Services, said medical teams at Alberta Precision Laboratories have been working for months to determine the effectiveness of the Abbott ID NOW and Abbott Panbio COVID-19 testing kits.
“These rapid tests are effective in identifying positive COVID-19 cases, especially in people with symptoms and signs of COVID-19 infection,” Stokes said.
Thursday’s announcement was made at the Calgary Drop-In Centre, where the rapid testing has been used since early last week. The province said its rapid-testing clinical pilot expanded on Dec. 7 to include the Calgary Drop-in Centre as well as Edmonton’s isolation facility.
The province said work is underway to bring the systems to more homeless shelters in urban and rural locations in the coming weeks.
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