Detection of coronavirus-infected workers returning to B.C. from an oil sands project in northern Alberta is one example of why public health officials have opened up testing to broader community cases, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says.
“Right now, anyone with symptoms of COVID-19 can now be assessed and tested, through your family physician,” Henry said at her daily briefing April 20. “If you have your nurse practitioner or a local community collection centre, you can call 8-1-1 to find out where those are.”
Primary symptoms are fever, cough and shortness of breath, key indicators of the novel coronavirus that can cause a range of illness from mild symptoms to life-threatening pneumonia-like conditions.
“While everyone can get tested, not everyone needs to get tested,” Henry said. “That’s very important. If you do not have symptoms, this test has very limited benefit and is not necessarily valid.”
The other key indicator for requesting a test is you have been in contact with someone who has COVID-19 or has been associated with one of the outbreaks that have been identified. The most recent one is Imperial Oil employees returning to B.C. from working at the Kearl Lake oil sands mine and processing plant north of Fort McMurray, Alberta. Seven people in B.C. have tested positive in B.C. from that group, and their family members and contacts are being followed up.
“Now is the time where we’ve broadened again our testing so we have a better idea of anyone in our community who may have COVID-19 going forward,” Henry said.
Henry first signalled the change in testing strategy when she and Health Minister Adrian Dix released B.C.’s second batch of disease modelling on April 17. It showed B.C’s testing focused broadly in the early days to detect returning travellers from China, Iran and other hot spots, then as of March 15 adding daily tests of health care workers after a series of outbreaks at senior care homes.
As of April 9 the testing became broader to find community transmission cases and get a better reading on the general population’s exposure.
B.C.’s Centre for Disease Control tracks its testing and other coronavirus data on an online dashboard. As of April 21, it shows a total of 64,375 tests, with 930 completed April 20.
B.C.’s current testing rate is 10,999 per million people, compared to 14,780 per million in Canada as a whole, with Quebec and Ontario grappling with much higher numbers of cases testing positive.