Acting Chief Medical Officer Catherine Elliott said that the territory is using rapid tests supplied by the federal government, but they are not providing them to the general public at this time.
The federal government has provided the Yukon government with more than 35,000 kits, but numbers on how they have been used have not been made public. The federal government said it provided the territory with 18,400 of the “Abbott Panbio” tests for at-home use, as well as 18,048 “Abbott ID Now” tests that require molecular testing machines.
During the COVID-19 press conference on Dec. 15, Elliott said the tests are being used “when appropriate.”
The two types of rapid tests are the “antigen rapid tests” which can be self-administered and used at home but are less reliable, and molecular rapid tests, which must be used with a dedicated machine but are more reliable.
Both rapid tests are still not as reliable or fulsome as the “gold standard” lab tests.
“We’ve used these [antigen] tests here in the Yukon when we can,” she said. “So for example, we’ve used them when we need to screen a large population very quickly when we need to assess the situation where we don’t have access to the molecular testing. This is how we’ve been using these rapid antigen tests.”
Elliott confirmed that the tests the federal government has provided have been used in hospitals and health centres in the territory, in addition to shared living settings like the drug and alcohol treatment centre and the Whitehorse emergency shelter.
She also said that rapid tests have been provided to mining companies in order to test workers in group-living settings. She noted the companies have their own medical teams with lab capacity.
“Our mines have fantastic medical oversight and laboratory capacity to run these tests,” she said.
So far, the tests have not been provided to the general public. Elliott said the tests are less reliable than the gold standard and they also reduce communication with public health. The standard lab tests allow the territory to track Omicron cases, for example, and they also don’t allow public health professionals to give people science-based advice on how to isolate in order to reduce infection.
“Using kits at home is definitely the way of the future and we will get there. It has both benefits and risks,” said Elliott.
“So we are looking at the role of rapid testing and the best place for it in our system here in Yukon. We are using it currently and we’re looking at the best ways to continue to use it over the coming weeks and months. But it is really important to know it’s not completely straightforward,” she said.
She encouraged people using antigen rapid tests to have follow-up lab tests at the COVID-19 testing centre.
Contact Haley Ritchie at email@example.com