Testing for virus ramped up ‘to avoid another spike’

File photo/Shutterstock

Testing for COVID-19 is expanding based on the course of the virus in B.C., says provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry. She is asking that everyone with symptoms be assessed for testing.

“We’re ramping it up and we expect to do more coming into this new phase where we are much more focused on everybody in the community,” Henry said during her daily briefing on Tuesday.

Henry announced Monday that testing was being broadened so that anyone with symptoms could be assessed and tested. Testing had been limited to people deemed to be more at risk.

The change was prompted in part by community outbreaks related to the Mission federal correctional facility, workers returning from the Kearl Lake oilsands camp in northern Alberta, and United Poultry Co. Ltd. in the Vancouver Coastal health region.

“We want to avoid another spike in community cases,” Henry said. “That’s why we are changing the strategy again, to open it up and ensure that we continue to find everybody who needs to be isolated and where we need to be contact tracing in the province.”

Early on, the province was using “a very broad testing strategy,” testing returning international travellers and trying to trace anybody who might have the disease in B.C., Henry said.

There was also a community testing strategy based on an influenza surveillance network already in place.

“When we started to get more community spread, we transitioned our testing strategy to focus on the highest risk and most vulnerable areas,” Henry said. Tests focused particularly on those who were critically ill or needed hospitalization, health care workers and people in long-term care.

“We’re now using testing again, and as of about 10 days ago, to help us quickly identify and address any new community cases and outbreaks,” she said.

The first patient samples for COVID-19 in B.C. were tested on Jan. 23. Close to 61,000 people have been tested in B.C. in total.

Anyone in the Island Health region with cold, influenza or COVID-19-like symptoms — cough, fever, shortness of breath, for example — is advised to get assessed for a test, which involves a nasopharyngeal swab.

Call your physician or nurse practitioner, who can determine if testing is needed and order a test.

Island residents who do not have a doctor can call Island Health’s call centre at 1-844-901-8442 to be assessed. Residents of Mount Waddington can call 1-250-902-6091.

People without symptoms, including health-care workers or contacts of people who have COVID-19, do not need to be tested, according to the Provincial Health Services Authority. Although some people are asymptomatic, the benefit of testing people without symptoms is limited and not necessarily valid, Henry said.

Appointments for COVID-19 testing must be pre-booked through a primary care provider or Island Health’s call centre. Testing centres won’t take people who walk in.

Times Colonist