EDMONTON – As Alberta implements stronger COVID-19 steps, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, provides an update on the province’s response to the ongoing COVID-19 (coronavirus disease) pandemic. She is joined by Tyler Shandro, Alberta’s Minister of Health.
Over the last two months, Alberta Health Services (AHS) and Alberta Precision Laboratories (APL) have been working to evaluate the effectiveness of the Abbott IDNow and PanBio COVID-19 testing kits, which have been approved by Health Canada and provided to provinces and territories by the federal government.
More than 100,000 tests are available for distribution to targeted sites to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 and protect Albertans.
“Alberta has been a leader in testing its citizens for COVID-19 as a critical component of understanding and limiting the spread of the virus. Adding point-of-care rapid testing to our COVID-19 testing capacity will allow for the identification and notification of positive COVID-19 cases in under 20 minutes, speeding up the appropriate care and isolation of patients, which will reduce the risk of further spread,” says Tyler Shandro, Minister of Health.
“Fast-tracking the testing process will allow our laboratory services and health-care teams to prioritize the cases that are still infectious, and focus our efforts where we can have the greatest impact on preventing further transmission. It will also free up capacity and further reduce turnaround times for the lab-based COVID-19 testing that our provincial labs will continue to provide as part of the provincial testing program,” states Mauro Chies, APL board chair and vice-president, Cancer Care Alberta & Clinical Support Services, Alberta Health Services.
In the coming weeks, these two point-of-care rapid testing systems will be rolled out in clinical pilots at several sites throughout the province. The PanBio rapid antigen tests will be used at one assessment centre in Calgary and one assessment centre in Edmonton. The IDNow tests will begin to be used at the COVID-19 assessment centres in Slave Lake and St. Paul and at the hospital lab in Bonnyville.
The tests will be used on patients who are within the first seven days of expressing symptoms, allowing health officials to quickly identify positive cases at testing sites, reducing the need for patient samples to be transported to centralized public laboratories for processing.
To ensure the validity of the results, two swabs will be collected from each patient, and all negative tests from both systems will be subject to confirmation by the existing lab-based polymerase chain-reaction (PCR) testing method. This is because a negative result is not as reliable as a PCR test and the test may miss some COVID-positive samples.
Alberta’s health officials will use these pilots to determine how to streamline processes related to patient management, results notifications and digital record keeping before the tests are deployed widely across the province.
APL is also working on expanding the use of point-of-care testing in other locations where it can be of the greatest value for public health authorities to manage COVID-19, such as homeless shelters and long-term care facilities.
Alberta continues to lead the way nationally, and internationally, when it comes to testing for COVID-19, with more than 2.1 million tests completed on more than 1.4 million people since the pandemic arrived in Canada earlier this year.