With 57 COVID-19 outbreaks in long-term care facilities and eight in acute care hospitals, the B.C. government today said it’s taking its first stab at rapid testing in the residential care sector.

The Abbott tests purchased by the federal government and distributed to the provinces will be used in a pilot project in some facilities in the Vancouver Coastal and Fraser Health regions. The government didn’t identify the residences but Terry Lake, CEO of the BC Care Providers Association, said he understands Holy Family Hospital (142 extended care residents) is the first to get rapid testing. The facility has had numerous COVID-19 outbreaks and a few dozen deaths.

Other Vancouver Coastal Health facilities that will reportedly participate in the rapid testing pilot project are Mount Saint Joseph Hospital and the Banfield Pavilion at Vancouver General Hospital.

Lake said he’s relieved the tests are finally going to be utilized in the residential care sector:

“If we had started this two months ago, perhaps we could have saved some lives.”

Daily testing won’t be done; the frequency will be more like one to three times per week because of a finite supply of tests and staff members to administer them.

At Holy Family Hospital today, Dr. Victor Leung, an infectious diseases/medical microbiologist, demonstrated how the testing is being done. He tweeted this:

If the pilot project proves valuable and the federal government sends provinces more test kits, rapid testing may become more prevalent. In B.C., such tests have merely been used to date at homeless shelters and the downtown eastside in Vancouver. Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said health providers have learned that the test kits don’t perform well in cold environments.

Still, she said the testing adds an additional layer of protection for long-term care facilities by potentially preventing the virus from being introduced into facilities and curbing further transmission once cases are identified.

The province also plans to evaluate rapid testing in rural/ remote communities and correctional facilities.

Henry said at a press briefing today that 60,000 B.C. residents work in the long-term care sector and they will be among the first to get vaccinated since they appear to be at greater risk of either getting infected or unwittingly infecting residents of the facilities where they work. More than 1,500 health professionals and others who work in the health care sector have been infected by COVID-19 since the pandemic began. Indeed, healthcare workers account for about 10% of all infections.

The announcement today follows comments made last week by Henry’s deputy, Dr. Reka Gustafson, about rapid testing. And pleas from Lake.

The B.C. update today from Henry and health minister Adrian Dix covered the past three days. There were 647 cases between Friday and Saturday, 726 cases between Saturday and Sunday, and 647 cases between Sunday and Monday. Five hundred and twenty seven people have died of COVID-19 in B.C., including 35 in the past three days.

The province now has 9,380 active cases. A total of 359 people are in hospital, including 77 in intensive care. The strain of COVID-19 hospitalizations is taking a huge toll on health providers. For example, in the Vancouver Coastal health region, there is little capacity left as 93.1% of base beds (not including surge capacity) are occupied and 86.1% of ICU beds are filled. Hospital beds in the Fraser Health region are also nearly full, not counting surge capacity beds.