Personal care home staff with no symptoms of COVID-19 could soon get testing anyway following the success of a recent pilot project.
The pilot project — rapid testing for the novel coronavirus — was completed over four weeks starting in mid-December at three personal care homes. It will now be offered to other facilities in the province. So far almost 40 care homes have taken up the offer.
"The fast identification of a positive test result enables the quickest possible action for the facility and the province," said Health and Seniors Care Minister Heather Stefanson in a statement on Monday.
"Using our available complement of rapid tests to further expand access to this testing will increase the safety of residents and staff in personal care homes."
Asymptomatic testing is already completed on known contacts when a resident or staff member tests positive, but this new testing is intended to find positive cases of people who are showing no symptoms to reduce further spread of the virus.
During the pilot, more than 1,400 tests were taken and three positive test results were found. The pilot project was run at the Donwood Manor and Deer Lodge Centre in Winnipeg and Neepawa's Country Meadows Personal Care Home, with staff there trained to administer the tests.
The test offers a 20-minute turnaround time for results.
At the time the pilot's launch, then-Health Minister Cameron Friesen said the three care homes were chosen because of their proximity to laboratory testing sites and size of their workforce.
Staff at care homes who sign up for the program will be tested while at work, preferably once a week.
Any staff members showing actual symptoms will continue to be told to stay home and isolate.
Sherry Heppner, The Convalescent Home of Winnipeg's developmental co-ordinator, said the care home is looking forward to begin testing once an outbreak at the facility is declared over — an improvement the care home hopes may come as early as Friday.
"We will do this for the safety and well-being of our residents and staff," said Heppner.
"But, just not right out the gate. There is training, resourcing and space requirements in order to successfully carry out the testing. So, it will happen, but I anticipate it will be March to April before we are ready to launch."
Debbie Boissonneault, president of CUPE Local 204, which represents more than 2,100 health care aides, dietary, and laundry staff in personal care homes, said they also welcome the additional testing — as long as other COVID-19 safeguards continue.
"For sure it can identify potential outbreaks before it occurs," Boissonneault said. "If this can help, I'm all for it.
"But it could also show false negatives as well. So staff and visitors should continue to wear PPE and follow the usual protocols. Asymptomatic testing shouldn't replace the fundamentals.
"We shouldn't let our guard down."
Boissonneault also said the testing should also be voluntary for staff.
Stefanson said new asymptomatic testing for personal care home staff "is another tool in our arsenal to combat the spread of COVID-19, particularly in congregate living settings like personal care homes that provide care to our most vulnerable Manitobans.
"These tests, in addition to other pandemic measures put in place at personal care homes, like enhanced sanitizing, heightened screening procedures and the first dose of vaccine being given to all personal care home residents, help keep the spread of this virus as limited as possible."
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