B.C.’s health ministry is setting up distribution of millions of COVID-19 rapid antigen tests to schools, with take-home kits to be distributed to students for their families to use if they develop symptoms of illness.
Health Minister Adrian Dix said Tuesday B.C. has more than 10 million tests on hand or on the way, with nearly 10 million more expected from Health Canada. Distribution will include 3.8 million more tests for K-12 schools and 2.1 million for post-secondary use.
Test supplies for schools “mark an important shift, as students will be offered in the coming weeks the opportunity to take home one five-test kit for their and their family’s future use if they were to become symptomatic,” Dix sad at a pandemic briefing Feb. 15.
Other tests will be distributed at no cost to seniors and other high-risk people in the community as supplies allow in the weeks ahead, he said. Rapid tests continue to be supplied for health care employees, visitors and staff to long-term care and rural and remote communities.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said increasing vaccination of children as well as testing are making it likely to reduce restrictions before the end of the school year. With vaccines available for school-aged children, there are likely to be changes “sooner rather than later” to make school a more normal experience, especially for younger children. About 55 per cent of children aged five to 11 have received a first dose, and Henry said it should be higher.
“It’s important to help get back to those normal activities,” she said.
As the effects of the fast-spreading Omicron variant continue to be studied, risk of serious illness continues to be greatest for elderly and immune-compromised people. As with hospitalized cases, the prevalence of Omicron has shifted death statistics as well, with active infections counted whether they result in severe illness and death or not.
“When we look at the people who have died, it is sadly overwhelmingly people who are seniors and elders, some of them in long-term care,” Henry said. “Of course, we count everybody in long-term care who dies within 30 days of a positive COVID test. Many people are dying with COVID, not necessarily because of it, but it is important to recognize that.
“But we are also seeing unvaccinated people, in particular, who don’t have that degree of protection from severe illness who are dying, and some of them younger in their 30s and 40s, and that’s important to recognize.”
B.C. health authorities continue to operate scheduled appointment COVID-19 vaccination clinics around the province for residents age five and older. Registration and booking appointments in B.C. can be done online here, or by calling 1-833-838-2323 between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., seven days a week.