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Here's when B.C. residents may get free take-home COVID-19 tests

Dr. Bonnie Henry explained what kind of tests they'd be and when we'll likely see them
Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said on December 14, 2021, that there is a "global supply issue" of rapid antigen tests for coronavirus testing.

British Columbians will not receive free rapid coronavirus take-home tests from the provincial government before the new year. 

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry told reporters in a press briefing on Tuesday (Dec. 14) that there is a "global supply issue" for rapid antigen tests. 

"Unfortunately, there is a global supply issue with many of these tests and we've not been able to get them in in the numbers that would be helpful for us across Canada or here in B.C. yet," she explained. 

There are different types of rapid antigen tests available, added Henry. Many of them require a health professional to conduct the nasal swab, but the take-home tests, similar to those used in the United Kingdom, are a "lateral flow test" that may be performed at home. They come in kits of about five tests with a dropper. 

"Those are the ones that we had been hoping would be coming earlier on, and yes, our plan was to use them," she said. "Particularly for situations where people have been exposed...where you want to understand if you're infected or not."

The pretest probability of testing positive for the virus increases in cases where an individual has been exposed to somebody with COVID-19.

"So somebody in your family or your household [has been] diagnosed with it. Your child [is] in a classroom in a school where there's been transmission in that classroom."

In situations like these, Henry noted that fully-vaccinated individuals may perform the test while they are at home in isolation. If they test positive for the virus, then they would get a PCR test.

"I know the feds are working really hard on this," she added. "We've had a number of the at-home tests that have been approved for use and last we heard is that it's likely to be early January.

"That is one of the strategies that we have been looking forward to."

On Tuesday, Dec. 14, health officials in Alberta announced that the province will provide free rapid tests through pharmacies and Alberta Health Services facilities.

But Henry cautions that B.C. has been focusing on using the right tests and that the rapid tests aren't always accurate in highly vaccinated populations. 

"You can have a low level of infection and you're not shedding a lot of [the] virus...these tests are not designed for that," she explained, highlighting some of the challenges with the tool. 

"So when we look at these tests, we have to put it in context of where they're being used."