B.C.’s former health minister is calling for widespread use of rapid COVID-19 testing at the province’s long-term care facilities to allow ailing residents to increase social interaction to improve their health.
Terry Lake — CEO of the BC Care Providers Association and former Kamloops mayor and MLA — said the tests are available and approved for use in Canada, but the holdup lies with B.C. public health officials who are skeptical of the accuracy of the tests.
Lake pointed to Ontario and many U.S. states, where rapid testing is used to quickly identify positive cases in an effort to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus in health-care facilities.
“We don’t have nearly that kind of rapid testing in B.C.,” he said. “We’re using it in the film industry and for sports leagues. They’re using it at YVR. But they’re not using it in the community.”
There is nothing stopping a long-term care operator from purchasing tests — they go for about US$5 a pop — and administering them on-site, but Lake said many operators are already in dire financial straits already after nearly eight months of the pandemic.
“They theoretically could, but the tests are not approved by the medical health officers or the provincial health officer, so you may run into some pushback from them,” Lake said. “The provincial health officers and medical health officers are concerned about the accuracy of these tests, but they’re being used elsewhere, in the U.S. and Ontario.”
Lake said the hope would be that, with a provincial stamp of approval, Victoria might shoulder some or all of the cost for testing.
“The government has already put in a sizeable amount of resources to hire FTEs in long-term care to do the [COVID-19] screening process,” Lake said. “They’ve already invested heavily in that. I don’t think the amount of money we’re talking here for the testing is close to that.”
Lake said he’d like to see the tests used daily on long-term care employees and visitors. He pointed to a recent report from B.C.’s seniors’ advocate, Isobel Mackenzie, which called for an easing of restrictions on visitors to long-term care residents.
Right now, rules allow one social visitor per resident — a designated friend or family member who is allowed to visit on a limited basis. With rapid testing, Lake said, a family might be allowed to rotate visitors to allow for more diverse social experiences for those in care.
Lake said his association is also seeking consistency and clarification on the definition of “essential visitor” — a friend or family member of someone in long-term care who provides an essential service to a resident.
According to Lake, about 4,500 long-term care residents have died in B.C. since the pandemic was declared in March. He said about 175 of those deaths were due to COVID.
“We hear from families,” he said. “People in care have said, ‘I’d rather die of COVID than die of loneliness.’ In her [Mackenzie’s] words, the goal is not immortality — you have to balance it. What are we saving people for?”