Manitoba working on plan to roll out rapid COVID-19 testing in care homes

WINNIPEG — Manitoba is working on a plan to do rapid testing in long-term care centres, according to the chief provincial public health officer.

“Rapid test availability is just emerging now so we are working on a plan that would involve testing in long-term care facilities,” Dr. Brent Roussin said Wednesday. “We don’t have a finalized plan, but there’ll be more to come on that.”

It comes as a group of family members with loved ones living in Simkin Centre, a Winnipeg long-term care home now dealing with a significant COVID-19 outbreak, calls for more rapid and surveillance testing among staff to help control and prevent the spread of COVID-19 from asymptomatic people.

“If the staff were tested say once a week, which is what Ontario has done, then they would know if they were sick or not,” said Leesa Streifler, whose 90-year-old mother Sheila is awaiting the results of a COVID-19 test.

Ontario now requires some workers at long-term care centres to get tested every week. That province also announced a plan Tuesday to deploy rapid test kits to hospitals, long-term care centres, and regions with high transmission. 

The Ontario government said it has received 98,000 Abbott ID NOW test kits.

Rapid tests, which are done with a nasal swab and can turn around results in minutes as compared to days, are less accurate and still need to be confirmed by traditional testing.

The Manitoba government previously announced a plan earlier this month to implement targeted, rapid testing for COVID-19. 

The province said on Nov.3 it received 13 rapid test devices, called the Abbott ID NOW, which was enough for 4,000 tests.

Most devices were sent to remote and northern communities, where factors such as transportation issues or weather could cause delays or affect access to traditional testing.

“We believe that that capability there has really helped us to be able to keep those communities safe,” Health Minister Cameron Friesen said Wednesday following question period. 

“We have asked the federal government for more of those. We live in hope that more will still arrive.”

“Right at this point in time it’s an issue of supply and demand, we simply need more of these devices.”

The province has also received 87,000 PanBio antigen tests, which it previously said would be used as a screening test and not for diagnostic purposes. 

According to information provided by Health Canada Wednesday evening, more than 200,000 rapid tests have been shipped to Manitoba since late October — that number includes both the ID NOW and Panbio tests.

A shipment of more than 12,000 ID NOW tests was sent to Manitoba Nov.17 and 96,000 Panbio tests were shipped Nov.12.  

Roussin pointed out on Tuesday surveillance testing has value but comes with limitations.

“When you’re testing asymptomatic people, the negative test doesn’t have a lot of value in it,” Roussin said on Tuesday. “If you’re testing people routinely but doing it once a week, well there’s many days in there that (the) negative in there is no longer really advising you of anything.”

“They were negative on the day you tested them, the next day they may not be negative.”

There are currently outbreaks at 28 of 39 long-term care centres in Winnipeg, with significant outbreaks at Golden Links Lodge, Holy Family Home, Maples PCH, Parkview Place, Simkin Centre, and St. Norbert PCH.

There are 159 active cases among personal care home workers in Winnipeg, with more staff awaiting test results and isolating at home. 

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