The province has launched rapid COVID-19 testing for anyone who travels by air to P.E.I.
Dr. Heather Morrison, the province’s chief public health officer, announced the four-week pilot project during her weekly briefing on Tuesday where she also announced there are no new cases.
“This project will allow us to assess the feasibility and sensitivity of the rapid tests for travellers arriving in P.E.I.,’’ said Morrison, adding it is being done in collaboration between Island EMS and the Charlottetown Airport Authority.
This measure is being taken in response to the latest variant of the virus and how quickly it can spread if not detected.
“In speaking with colleagues (in Newfoundland and Labrador), they indicated the latest variant spreads like wildfire and that many of the young people who were positive had very mild, if any, symptoms of COVID-19,’’ said Morrison.
The new testing will involve two swabs per passenger. One swab will be for the rapid test while the other one will be sent to the laboratory for confirmation.
Passengers at the airport will not have to wait for test results, but it doesn’t change the fact that all incoming travellers will still have to self-isolate as they have been doing all along.
“The result of this four-week project will help to inform P.E.I.’s approach to testing, including use of rapid tests in the coming weeks and months, with the goal of earlier detection of positive cases.’’
Morrison acknowledged there has been a lot of debate about rapid testing during the past few weeks.
The chief public health officer pointed out that the turnaround time for testing at the provincial laboratory is extremely fast, ranking fourth in the country behind Alberta, Ontario and Quebec.
P.E.I.’s laboratory has the capacity to do 850 tests per day or 6,000 per week. Since the public health restrictions were put in place last March, only once has the demand for testing exceeded that 6,000 number and that was in early December when a cluster of seven cases led to a circuit breaker with more restrictions.
“Rapid tests are best deployed in an outbreak situation where there is virus circulating in the community. Rapid tests are not all the same … some rapid tests are more valid and reliable when used with symptomatic individuals and are not intended for use with people without symptoms.’’
Morrison said they have received more than 37,000 rapid tests from the province and won’t hesitate to use them in the right place, at the right time.
Rapid testing has been deployed so far at the Prince County Hospital in Summerside and the Western Hospital in Alberton. In addition, 5,000 rapid tests were used in early December at UPEI to support targeted testing of people in the 20-29-year-old age group.
Morrison also announced some changes to the testing requirement for rotational workers, truck drivers and work-isolators, effective March 1.
For rotational workers, truck drivers and work-isolators who are doing multiple trips to and from P.E.I. each week they will now be tested every five days instead of seven or as close to that as the person’s work schedule permits.
Work-isolators who travel to P.E.I. from outside the Maritimes will now be tested every second day.
Residents and non-residents in self-isolation after travel outside the Maritimes, will be tested three times within the first 11 days of their arrival.
As for vaccinations, Morrison said, as of Saturday, 11,630 doses of vaccine had been administered in P.E.I., including 5,163 adults who have received both doses. The March shipment of the Pfizer vaccine has been confirmed, which will be 1,170 doses. Health officials are still awaiting confirmation of the Moderna vaccine shipment in March.
Morrison said her office expects and has made plans to receive more doses of vaccine from April to June and will be releasing more information at the next scheduled briefing.
Efforts to vaccinate the public have also began with Islanders aged 80 and older.
Marion Dowling, the province’s chief nurse, said more than 4,600 people have booked an appointment by phone or online. The number to call is 1-844-975-3303. The line is staffed from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
On Monday, 150 Islanders in that age group received their initial dose and the plan is to vaccinate 900 Islanders each week for the next few weeks.
Following are the COVID-19 numbers reported in Atlantic Canada on Tuesday:
• P.E.I.: No new cases.
• Nova Scotia: Three new cases.
• New Brunswick: No new cases.
• Newfoundland and Labrador: 15 new cases.
Following are some P.E.I. numbers mentioned by Dr. Heather Morrison during her briefing on Tuesday:
• 39 per cent of cases have been women.
• 61 per cent of cases have been men.
• 53 per cent have been in the 20-39 age group.
• 59 per cent have been related to international travel.
• 20 per cent have been related to domestic travel within Canada.
• 19 per cent have been related to contacts with a positive case.
• In terms of enforcement, 942 random monitoring checks of people in self-isolation have been conducted since Dec. 17. A total of 106 charges have been laid.