British Columbia has plans to expand its inventory and distribution of rapid COVID-19 tests that can be used at home by individuals experiencing symptoms of the virus.
Case rates from the latest variant, Omicron, have risen to the highest levels seen during the pandemic, according to the BC COVID-19 Modelling Group.
The modelling group, which works on rapid response modelling of the pandemic, estimates that prior to Christmas, Omicron cases in B.C. were growing 21 to 26 per cent each day, doubling every three to 3.6 days.
“With testing limitations, current growth rate is unknown,” read their Jan. 6 COVID Model Projections report.
In light of the Omicron surge, B.C. health officials announced that the province ordered a large shipment of rapid antigen test kits in late-December that are expected to be distributed this month.
According to the First Nations Health Authority (FNHA), around 700,000 kits will go to testing sites across the province for people who have COVID-19 symptoms. The remaining tests will be given to people living or working in places that have a higher risk of infection and transmission, including rural and remote Indigenous communities.
All Nuu-chah-nulth communities will receive rapid tests for at-home self-testing, which will be distributed by FNHA regional offices.
“Currently, there is a limited supply, so factors such as remoteness, current access to in-community testing services and population size will contribute to allocation decisions,” the FNHA said.
Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council (NTC) Vice-President Mariah Charleson said she’s happy to hear First Nations communities on Vancouver Island continue to be prioritized.
“We know that in our rural and remote communities, it can be extremely difficult to travel in-and-out, making testing even more difficult,” said Charleson. “This is just another way to protect our people.”
By providing at-home solutions for testing, Charleson said residents don’t have to risk their lives to leave the community. It also keeps NTC nurses safe, eliminating the risks of traveling to remote communities to provide testing during the stormy winter season.
While rapid tests are less accurate at detecting COVID-19 infection than standard testing, the FNHA said the at-home antigen tests “can be used to support early diagnosis of COVID-19 and to detect growing clusters in communities.”
Charleson said it’s concerning that the rapid tests aren’t as effective, but when it comes to “how rural and remote some of the communities are, the pros do outweigh the cons.”
“We use [rapid tests] to manage people who have symptoms and need to know what they're dealing with to manage their medical condition,” said Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry. “The tests need to be used strategically and that's what we're doing.”