Why has B.C. used less than 1% of its rapid COVID test supply? Green Party leader asks

Green party Leader Sonia Furstenau arrives to announce her party’s election platform in New Westminster, B.C., on October 14, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan HaywardGreen party Leader Sonia Furstenau arrives to announce her party’s election platform in New Westminster, B.C., on October 14, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
An Abbott Laboratories Panbio COVID- 19 Rapid Test device is displayed at a pop-up COVID-19 testing site on the Dalhousie University campus in Halifax on Wednesday, Nov. 235 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew VaughanAn Abbott Laboratories Panbio COVID- 19 Rapid Test device is displayed at a pop-up COVID-19 testing site on the Dalhousie University campus in Halifax on Wednesday, Nov. 235 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

Despite the nearly three million rapid tests that the federal government has sent to B.C., all but 13 per cent of them are still sitting in provincial storage.

That’s according to the federal government, who said it has sent 2.8 million rapid tests to B.C., of which just 383,732 have been deployed – delivered to their point-of-use – and less than 10 per cent of those have been used. Just 24,478, or six per cent, of the tests deployed have been used – equating to less than one per cent actually being administered.

B.C. has repeatedly said it will only use rapid tests if they see a benefit, versus creating more work. At the start of March, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said rapid tests had been used in provincial prisons, workplace outbreaks and in B.C. schools but produced just two positive results.

“If our community transmission rates are low, screening with these less sensitive tests is not very effective. It doesn’t help us because the yield is so low and they have a very much higher false-negative rate. In those areas where we have an outbreak or where community transmission rates are higher, that’s when they might have more utility and those are the areas that we are looking at more closely,” Henry said in early March.

However, BC Green Party Leader Sonia Furstenau challenged the government’s use of rapid point-of-care tests. Furstenau compared B.C.’s strategy to that of Nova Scotia, which has in recent days experienced its own surge in COVID cases.

“Rapid tests are available to anyone in Nova Scotia over the age of 16, whether they are exhibiting symptoms or not,” she said during Monday’s Question Period in the legislature. According to federal data, Nova Scotia has used 28,831 rapid tests.

“The positivity rate in Nova Scotia right now is 0.6 per cent. The positivity rate in B.C. is 9.3 per cent. It appears from the actions that Nova Scotia is taking that it remains committed to keeping COVID-19 cases as close to zero as possible. What is our goal in B.C.?”

In response, Health Minister Adrian Dix said the government was focused on PCR, lab-based, testing.

“Our goal is, on the decisions such as rapid testing, that we are focusing, right now, on the 2.5 million PCR tests we have done in British Columbia. Our goal is to support public health experts like Dr. Henry as they do their job, and to not give them instructions that would divert resources from where they’re most needed,” Dix said.

“I don’t think we want to be in a jurisdiction where politicians overturn that order, instruct and tell public health experts in issues such as transmission how and when they should use tests. The member knows that we laid out our strategy for rapid testing.”

There have been 127,048 cases of COVID-19 in B.C. and 1,571 deaths, including a toddler and an infant.

READ MORE: B.C.’s rapid COVID-19 tests have produced only two positive results


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katya.slepian@bpdigital.ca

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