Alberta expands COVID-19 rapid testing program to asymptomatic continuing care staff

Starting next week, Alberta will expand its COVID-19 rapid testing program to include asymptomatic staff at certain long-term care facilities, the next step in its goal to offer rapid testing for all continuing care staff.

“This expansion will eventually cover all 36,000 staff in continuing care facilities across the province,” Health Minister Tyler Shandro said Tuesday morning.

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Three long-term care facilities have been identified by Alberta Health Services and will begin testing as early as next week.

The Government of Alberta will be supplying these tests free of charge and the tests will be done weekly to start.

If the COVID-19 positivity rate is more than five per cent in the surrounding community, facilities will be asked to increase the testing to twice a week.

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Anyone who tests positive from a rapid test will be required to self-isolate and will be sent for a standard test to confirm.

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Revera — who employs 3,000 continuing care staff in Alberta — has already started rolling out rapid testing at its facilities in Ontario and Shandro said the company is confident it will be able to start offering the tests to its Alberta staff.

“We hope and expect it will make a large difference in Alberta as well,” Shandro said.

Read more: Alberta expanding COVID-19 rapid testing to long-term care, remote rural communities

Rapid testing has already been deployed at 33 COVID-19 assessment centres, 29 hospitals, seven homeless shelters in Edmonton, Calgary and Red Deer and mobile testing facilities that test residents and staff of long-term care and designated supportive living facilities.

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Workplace pilot project

On Tuesday, the government also announced a pilot project is already underway in northern Alberta that is part of a larger consortium aiming to develop a cost-effective system for reopening the economy during the pandemic.

About 200 workers at Suncor Energy’s base plant in Fort McMurray and 125 staff in Fort McKay are taking part in the rapid-test project.

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Participants without symptoms are being screened for COVID-19 at these facilities twice a week for 10 weeks.

“In this way, workers who have COVID but don’t know it can be identified before they infect coworkers or others which will prevent or reduce outbreaks,” Shandro said.

The government has supplied 7,000 tests for the project. It hasn’t identified any positive cases yet, but anyone who tests positive will self-isolate and be set for secondary testing to confirm.

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The project is led by Creative Destruction Labs’ Rapid Screening Consortium and includes 12 companies including Loblaws, Air Canada and Scotiabank as well as Suncor.

At the end of the 10 weeks, the consortium will share the results with Alberta Health and Health Canada.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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