A successful pilot project at the University of British Columbia for self-administered rapid tests found 25 asymptomatic cases of COVID-19.
Health Canada has been clear that rapid tests are an important part of our pathway out of the global pandemic. They continue to encourage provinces and businesses to use rapid tests.
We have been asking the BC NDP government why there continues to be barriers to a more comprehensive rapid testing program and I asked the Minister of Health whether the results of this pilot project will inform decisions going forward.
The results from a University of British Columbia trial of rapid testing in first-year residences has come back with positive results, positive cases and positive findings — 25 PCR-confirmed cases were caught in this trial, stopping further transmission from spreading from highly infectious yet asymptomatic people. The trial’s results noted that students preferred to test themselves, when given the option, and effectively decreased the spread of COVID-19 due to great engagement.
The study from UBC shows success using rapid tests in communal settings and that people are wanting agency in what they can do to bend the curve. Directives to stay home and stay safe are passive and have exhausted people. Rapid tests are a tool of engagement. They give people something to do. They give people an action and an active role to play in our pandemic response.
My question is to the Minister of Health. Will this government be using the results of this study to implement a revised rapid testing strategy in British Columbia?
Hon. A. Dix:
Thank you to the Member for his question.
I would start by disagreeing somewhat. I think that there is a role for all British Columbians, and British Columbians have done an excellent job in following public health guidance, engaging with one another on it and following public health orders. You’ve seen that repeatedly as case counts have gone up and then come down because of the actions of British Columbians.
With respect to rapid testing, our policy is directed by our scientific experts at the BCCDC and the provincial health officer. We laid out that policy in detail on March 3 — Dr. Bonnie Henry did, on behalf of the province. That allows for an increased use in rapid testing.
Some of the technology that the member is talking about is very recent here in British Columbia. Some of the technology that’s been used in other jurisdictions isn’t yet licenced in Canada. But, absolutely, the idea of responding to this pandemic is to adapt and adapt again. So all studies that are put in place on the issue of rapid testing are reviewed by both the BCCDC and the provincial health officer, and they’ll be used to guide policy in the days to come.
Member for Saanich North and the Islands on a supplemental.
Thank you to the minister for the response. A government of Canada news release from Health Canada just a couple of days ago talks about testing and screening as important tools to help reduce the risk of outbreaks quickly, to identify and isolate cases and limit spreading in workplaces and in the community. It goes on to say that across the country, rapid tests have already helped to identify and stop the transmission of over 11,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19.
The reluctance of this B.C. NDP government to remove barriers to rapid testing is frankly astonishing. They did finally change the restrictions to allow nonmedical professionals to administer rapid tests in the workplace. Yet as of last week, 33 workplaces have applied for these point-of-care tests, and zero have been approved.
British Columbia is falling behind on rapid testing in the workplace. We have used one percent of the rapid tests in our stockpile, with more than a million of these tests set to expire this fall. The federal industry advisory panel has called for rapid tests in the workplace and said that B.C. is dragging its heels.
My question is again to the Minister of Health. Why has this government created barriers to access rapid tests in the midst of this pandemic?
Hon. A. Dix:
I’m really surprised at the member on this precise point of how to use testing that surely, amongst all subjects, should be guided by scientific experts — and is, in British Columbia — suddenly becoming a partisan issue. It’s not a partisan issue.
Our policy is guided by the Canadian committee. We’ve heard regularly from Dr. Dhalla and Sue Paish, who will be familiar with members of the House, who are chairing the federal committee, and by Dr. Bonnie Henry and the BCCDC.
Our policy around rapid testing was based first on validating the test, which was important, and then doing a series of pilot projects, and then setting out a policy, and now using them more and more as the technology evolves. That is based on the scientific evidence. It’s not a trade agreement where one political party has one position and another has another position. We are being guided by Dr. Bonnie Henry, by the BCCDC, by federal advice and by the scientific evidence. That will continue to be the case in the coming days and weeks of this pandemic.