By Kenyon Stronski
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Southern Alberta Newspapers
On Jan 10, the Alberta government held a conference to change the eligibility requirements for those looking to receive PCR testing for COVID-19.
As it stands, the testing volumes are beginning to exceed the system capacity, and wait times for booking a test are now beginning to approach four days — while the time to receive test results is approaching 48 hours. Moving forward, PCR testing eligibility will now be focused on those who have clinical risk factors for severe outcomes, and those who live and work in high-risk settings.
“Like other provinces, Alberta’s testing resources have increasingly become stretched, and with the rising number of COVID cases due to Omicron we now need to focus this testing capacity strategically to those most at risk of serious illness from COVID,” said Jason Copping, Alberta’s minister of health.
Alberta Health Services (AHS) has proceeded to update the COVID-19 online assessment tool to help Albertans determine whether or not they need to book a PCR test, what type of care to seek based on their symptoms and how to take care of symptoms at home with appropriate support.
Additionally, 811 is experiencing high daily call volumes and it is being recommended that Albertans use the online assessment tool to check their symptoms of the symptoms of someone they may be caring for before calling Health Link.
The government also recommends those with mild illness should not visit emergency departments seeking a test, as tests in those settings are only used when a test is needed for patient care. While employers and organizations should not be requiring individuals with mild symptoms to have a PCR test to be eligible for sick time off work.
“While we have been used to managing COVID through widespread PCR testing, that approach is not possible with the Omicron variant. At this time, most people who have mild symptoms don’t need a PCR test. For those without risk factors such as immunosuppression, they should self-isolate and manage their symptoms at home, using a rapid test if they have one.”
Effective immediately, PCR tests will only be available for the following:
Continuing care residents and health-care workers and staff in acute and continuing care settings, shelters and correctional facilities who meet one or more of the following criteria:
-need confirmation of a positive rapid test on screening
-have COVID-19 symptoms
-are part of an outbreak investigation where public health has requested lab-based PCR testing
-Symptomatic household members of a person who works in continuing care or acute care.
-Emergency department or hospital patients of all ages who meet one or more of the following criteria:
-inpatients who develop new COVID-19 symptoms while in hospital
-patients being admitted for symptoms consistent with COVID-19
-patients in the emergency department with respiratory illness where a test will change treatment plans
-Symptomatic community patients who would be eligible for Sotrovimab (monoclonal antibody) treatment if positive:
Those who are not immunized and are:
-age 55 and over
-18 years and over with one of the following health conditions: diabetes, obesity, chronic kidney disease, congestive heart failure,
-chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or moderate to severe asthma
-children aged 12 to 17, with referral by a pediatric I.D. specialist
-Those who are immunosuppressed (transplant, active cancer or systemic immune treatment), regardless if immunized or not.
-People from isolated and remote First Nation, Inuit and Métis communities, and individuals travelling to these communities for work.
-Asymptomatic continuing care residents returning/readmitted from other health-care settings.
-Pediatric and adult asymptomatic transplant donors and recipients, prior to transplant.
-Pediatric and adult oncology patients, prior to commencing chemotherapy.
-Newborns born to COVID-19-positive parents.
-Returning international travellers who become symptomatic within 14 days after their arrival.