Changes to COVID-19 testing eligibility
Due to rising demand for PCR tests, Alberta is changing the eligibility for these tests to focus on those who most need them.
Daily PCR testing volumes are beginning to exceed system capacity. Wait times for booking a PCR test are now approaching four days and turnaround time for providing results to patients is approaching 48 hours. To ensure that patient care decisions are supported by timely diagnostic information, 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.”
Jason Copping, Minister of Health
“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.”
Dr. Deena Hinshaw, chief medical officer of health
Alberta Health Services has updated the online COVID-19 assessment tool to help Albertans determine whether they need 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.
Health Link 811 continues to experience high daily call volumes. It is recommended Albertans use the online COVID-19 assessment tool to check their symptoms or the symptoms of someone they may be caring for before they call Health Link.
At this time, the assessment tool has been updated to reflect new PCR testing criteria for adults. The tool will be updated later this week for children and youth.
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. If Albertans are unsure whether they need to talk to a doctor about their illness, they can also use the Alberta Medical Association tool to determine what they should do. Most people with mild illness do not need a test or a conversation with their doctor.
Employers and organizations should not require individuals with mild symptoms to have a PCR test to be eligible for sick time off work. It is critical to support those who are sick to stay home with no testing requirements at this time of high transmission.
Effective immediately, PCR tests will be available only for the following individuals:
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.
NDP Health Critic David Shepherd issued the following statement in response to today’s public health update:
“At today’s COVID update, Dr. Hinshaw asked Albertans who do not fall into the new list of eligibility for PCR tests to call and cancel their existing appointments, whether or not they have access to a rapid test.
“With rapid tests still difficult to obtain in many places, I know many Albertans will feel abandoned by their government as the Omicron variant spreads out of control in their community.
“Dr. Hinshaw also said ‘we need to prepare for significant impact’ on the healthcare system, but was unable to say why the UCP refuses to release the AHS two-week forecast that describes that impact in detail.
“I’m extremely concerned that we did not see the Health Minister join today’s update to provide the essential information Albertans need to make informed decisions around COVID-19, nor did we see the Education Minister provide an update on the first day back to school across the province.
“Albertans cannot trust the UCP as they continue to dodge their responsibility, and refuse to be forthcoming with critical public health information. They must release the AHS two-week forecast, and stop hiding the truth from Albertans.”