Yukon’s First Nations are among the many groups calling on the Yukon government to make better use of rapid testing resources from the federal government.
Math’ieya Alatini, the Council of Yukon First Nations COVID-19 coordinator, said the territory can now provide more rapid testing in communities, but has been slow to deploy the technology.
Alatini said every health centre in the Yukon, including in the communities, has had an Abbott IDNow testing device since October 2020. The tool is a molecular test and can provide initial results within 15 minutes.
While the Abbott IDNow machine has been used when the government sends out a rapid testing team to communities, local health centres don’t currently have the capacity to provide regular testing.
“It is challenging, I think, from a community service standard perspective, to realize that there are Abbott IDNow in every nursing station, there are GeneXpert devices in every hospital in the Yukon, and they are not being operationalized,” she said.
While the GeneXpert at the Whitehorse hospital is being used for doctors and nurses, Alatini said staff capacity remains an issue for the Abbott IDNow machines outside of the capital.
“Community nursing does not want to add testing due to capacity requirements or the jobs of community nurses. So our proposal to YG was, with the assistance of the Public Health Agency of Canada, let’s train technicians in the community to run the equipment, have the nurses collect the samples, and have a trained technician run the testing equipment. You could have capacity development within the community and same-day results,” she said.
“This is an opportunity to build capacity, to look at partnering in healthcare provision within the community, that would allow faster turnaround of test results. This could be an option,” she said.
Alatini said CYFN is still in talks with the Yukon government about solutions.
The News contacted the Department of Health and Social Services requesting information on the use of rapid tests on Dec. 8, but received no response. A follow-up request on Dec. 13 also received no response.
Both the Abbott IDNow and the GeneXpert are molecular tests, which are more reliable than at-home antigen tests but less reliable than the “gold standard” of sending samples to a lab in British Columbia.
The CMOH office has explained in the past that this variability in test results, which can report false positives or false negatives, has made them cautious when using anything other than the standard lab tests.
But Alatini said the timeline for getting tests back has been a barrier, and the rapid tests have been a tool to help detect early cases and reduce household spread.
The federal government has also provided CYFN with two of their own GeneXpert devices, one of which has been deployed to the Kwanlin Dün Health Centre. A second device is headed to Old Crow, with the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation undertaking training in hopes that it will be operational by the new year.
“Their intent is to be able to run rapid testing for people that are coming in off the plane,” said Alatini.
The Public Health Agency of Canada has also provided CYFN with around 8,000 “rapid antigen” self-administered tests. The rapid antigen tests are being used by First Nations to allow for gatherings, school exposure testing and front-line services to detect and then slow the spread of COVID-19.
The antigen tests can be self-administered, but they are less reliable than molecular tests or the lab test. Even with a quick antigen test, a positive antigen test still requires a confirmatory PCR lab test.
“The rapid tests have allowed us to gather safely, which is a big piece,” said Alatini, saying that the testing has allowed general assemblies, consultation meetings, potlatches and delivering programming such as health care, family workers or cultural events.
“It’s allowing us to gather safely, and ensure that the people who are in the room do not have COVID at that time,” she said.
As an example, Alatini said rapid tests were used prior to an elders meeting, where a young person who was double-vaccinated with no symptoms was planning to speak with eight elders from across the territory in mid-November. The test revealed a positive result and the youth didn’t attend.
“That just saved all those elders. Like honestly, it was so good,” she said.
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