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We Need to Get Rapid Tests to Seniors in Care and Beyond

The supply is there to provide older adults improved quality of life while ensuring their safety.

Isobel Mackenzie 24 Jan 2022TheTyee.ca

Isobel Mackenzie is seniors advocate for the Province of British Columbia.

In the last six weeks, we have begun to experience the prolific impact of the Omicron variant. While there are differences with this latest variant, what has not changed is that seniors remain at highest risk. The evidence is clear, people age 65 and older are still 50 times more likely to die from COVID-19.

To manage this risk, we need to ensure, as much as possible, that those who are coming into close contact with older adults are not infectious. This is not achieved with a single measure but rather as series of measures or “layers of protection.”

Ensuring everyone is fully vaccinated, including a booster, staying home when not feeling well and wearing a mask when appropriate are all important. However, we also know that many, if not most people, are infectious before they experience symptoms — this is where the added layer of protection offered by a rapid test is vital.

B.C. is receiving over 18 million rapid tests from the federal government and could ask for or buy more if needed. If we allocate these tests based on evidence and population risk, there are enough tests to provide seniors with some quality of life while ensuring their safety. This type of thoughtful approach has served us well, for the most part, in our pandemic response to date and will continue to do so as we make our (hopefully) final push through this global health crisis.

Rapid tests are most effective if used immediately prior to close contact. For long-term care, this means everyone entering who will have personal contact with residents needs to be tested that day. Everyone means visitors and staff.

If we reserve the rapid tests for only those who show symptoms it is arguably too late. Testing staff based only on symptoms has proven insufficient in the past and with the shorter incubation period of the Omicron variant people are infectious earlier, likely one to two days before symptoms start.

Operators need direction to support a streamlined screening process to manage the frequent testing that is required to effectively use these rapid tests.

Staff in long-term care can self-administer the rapid test and many visitors will also be able to self-test (care home staff should only be deployed to test those who are not able to test themselves).

It goes without saying that all staff and visitors must be fully vaccinated, and the time has come to recognize that fully vaccinated for long-term care includes a booster.

Seniors who don’t live in long-term care, but in the wider community, also need to be protected, as many are extremely vulnerable. We need to get rapid tests into the hands of these seniors, too, so they can reduce the risk of contracting the virus from those who need to come into their homes. This can easily be achieved by asking pharmacies to dispense testing kits to seniors. Pharmacies in B.C. are equipped with the infrastructure to achieve this and most vulnerable seniors already have a relationship with their local pharmacy.

British Columbians have shown they care deeply about the seniors in our province and the government has demonstrated its commitment to seniors by dedicating significant resources to them over the course of this pandemic. I am confident that we will continue to show this generosity of heart in the weeks and months ahead. Together we will transition from this life dominated by COVID-19 and we will carry with us the knowledge that when seniors in B.C. needed our help, we were there for them.  [Tyee]

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