Alberta changes COVID-19 testing protocols to focus on individuals who are most at risk

Alberta health officials are implementing new testing protocols for suspected cases of COVID-19, giving priority to people who are most at risk of developing extreme symptoms or infecting others in the community. 

Travellers who returned to Alberta after March 12 and have mild symptoms will no longer be tested for the virus, Alberta Health Services said in a statement on Monday.

Instead, the returning travellers are being instructed to self-isolate at home.

The new strategy puts a priority on at-risk Albertans and the people who at the highest risk for local exposure, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer, said in the news release. 

The most important thing anyone can do if they have mild symptoms isn’t to get tested – it’s to stay home and self-isolate.– Dr. Deena Hinshaw

“This is consistent with the approach happening across Canada. It will enable us to strategically use our testing resources,” she said. 

“The most important thing anyone can do if they have mild symptoms isn’t to get tested – it’s to stay home and self-isolate.”

Testing will be prioritized for people who are showing symptoms and fall among any of these groups:

  • People hospitalized with respiratory illness
  • Residents of continuing care or similar facility
  • People who returned from travelling abroad between March 8 and March 12 (before self-isolation protocols were in place)
  • Health-care workers with respiratory symptoms.

Anyone who has developed symptoms, even they are not on the priority list, are advised to stay home and self-isolate for a minimum of 10 days from the start of their symptoms, or until symptoms resolve. 

As well, the statement confirmed that testing will still be done for anyone who has already been told they would get one.

“Changing our testing protocols will allow us to focus Alberta’s testing capacity on those most at risk,” Hinshaw said.

Number of travellers decreasing

The change was expected, said Dr. Mark Joffe, Alberta Health Services’ vice-president and medical director for northern Alberta.

As the number of travellers returning to the province wanes, it makes sense to focus on vulnerable populations and health-care workers, he told CBC Radio’s Edmonton AM on Monday morning.

“The thing is, if people are feeling sick, they need to stay home,”Joffe said.  “We don’t need a test for those individuals.” 

Alberta confirmed  33 new cases on Sunday, bringing the total in the province to 259. Of those cases, 18 are in hospital and seven have been admitted to intensive care units. 

As of Sunday afternoon, Alberta had completed nearly 27,000 tests for the virus, the highest number per capita in Canada.

There has been one Alberta fatality linked to COVID-19 in the province, an Edmonton man in his 60s who died on March 18, less than one week after being admitted to a hospital intensive care unit.

Three people in the province have recovered from the virus.

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