Care home providers add to growing appeal for rapid COVID-19 tests for workers

Care home operators in B.C. say having a daily rapid COVID-19 test for their workers could help stem outbreaks and alleviate anxiety about brining the virus to elderly people under their care.

The comments follow B.C. Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie’s call for the province to provide rapid tests for workers in care homes.

The majority of COVID-19 deaths in the province have occurred in long-term care. On Tuesday the province said there were currently 55 active outbreaks in long-term care and assisted living centres.

“If we had rapid testing we might catch some of those people who actually are shedding the virus but they’re not showing any symptoms,” said Mackenzie about workers who inadvertently bring the disease into a care home where it can easily spread with devastating results.

Rapid tests for coronavirus, known as rapid antigen tests, have been developed to give results in 15 to 30 minutes, much quicker than conventional tests.

COVID-19 nasal swap test kit pictured in March 2020. (Evan Tsuyoshi Mitsui/CBC)

The film industry has been using the tests on sets as have some sports leagues.

Most often health workers use what’s called “reverse-transcriptase polymerase chain reaction” (RT-PCR) testing to confirm cases of COVID-19. The tests evaluate a cell sample taken with a swab at the back of the nose and throat for trace amounts of the coronavirus’s RNA.

These test are more accurate than rapid tests, but it can take days to receive the results.

‘A huge difference’

Dan Levitt is the executive director of Tabor Village an independent and assisted living home in Abbotsford where 122 staff and residents have positive tests during its current coronavirus outbreak. There have been 16 deaths from the disease in November.

He said rapid tests could be one more tool, along with temperature checks, mask use and cleaning, to push back the rate of outbreaks at care homes. 

“It’s really the asymptomatic staff members, so if we could test them every day when they come in, we would wait for 15, 30 minutes until we get the results back and then if they’re clear then they’ll be able to come in,” he said.

“If we could do that, it would make a huge difference.”

Debra Hauptman, the CEO of the Langley Care Society, which operates Langley Lodge agrees.

“We would welcome it, we think it’s a very positive move to undertake everything that we can,” she said. “One more measure that would give us all confidence.”

Isobel Mackenzie, the seniors’ advocate for British Columbia, says rapid COVID-19 tests should be used at long-term care and assisted living facilities as one more tool to prevent outbreaks. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

The lodge has had three outbreaks, one of which put the care home into lockdown for more than 60 days starting in mid-May and resulted in 51 cases and 26 deaths.

Hauptman said the anxiety workers face over potentially bringing the disease to residents is difficult to cope with and a rapid test could mitigate that.

“Let us try it,” she said. “We’re not asking for perfection, we’re asking for support.”

‘Not a panacea’

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said on Monday there aren’t enough tests in the province to apply them widely. She was also lukewarm about their efficacy.

“It is not a panacea,” she said. “It is not what is going to solve our issue, because the tests have faults and limitations.”

She said testing all workers each and every day is not currently possible. 

“We don’t yet have that type of a test that we could easily do every day,” she said.

Still long-term care providers like Hauptman said they would be willing to help fund the tests if the province was willing to try and implement them.

The B.C. Care Providers Association has also asked for the tests to be used at long-term care centres.

 

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