An anticipated delivery of at-home rapid tests from Ottawa has been delayed, leaving pharmacy shelves bare as Alberta cuts back on the availability of lab-based testing.
"Alberta Health has learned that the expected supply of at-home rapid COVID-19 tests has been delayed from the federal government and manufacturers," Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, said Tuesday on Twitter.
"Alberta Health is working hard to obtain more supply as soon as possible."
Hinshaw didn't say when more swabs are expected to arrive or whether the delayed delivery would stall distribution of the kits in Alberta classrooms.
The province had promised that 4.3 million tests would be delivered to K-12 schools this week, with another 4.3 million to follow later this month. Together, the 8.6 million tests for schools are part of a supply of 15 million tests the government said would be available across the province in January.
Alberta rations PCR testing
The province is now rationing PCR tests, meaning most Albertans will have to rely on at-home rapid tests for proof of COVID-19 infection.
But the free kits have been hard to come by.
The rapid tests are supposed to be available, on a first-come, first-served basis, at select pharmacies in Edmonton, Calgary and Red Deer, and at Alberta Health Services sites in other communities across the province.
Since they were first made available to the public ahead of the holidays, the kits have disappeared quickly from pharmacy shelves, and many Albertans remain on the hunt for the coveted swabs.
The latest shortage comes as K-12 students return to the classroom and a wave of Omicron cases pushes provincial labs beyond capacity.
As of Wednesday morning, an interactive map that Albertans are encouraged to use to track down the coveted tests, no pharmacies in Alberta's largest cities had any supply.
Alberta Health said last week that the province had confirmed shipping dates for at least four million rapid tests from the federal government.
On Jan. 4, Alberta Health spokesperson Christa Jubinville said supplies were expected to remain low in the first part of January due to anticipated delivery dates from manufacturers and Health Canada. She said additional supply would be available to ship to pharmacies the week of Jan. 17.
Alberta had also procured an additional order of 10 million rapid tests to meet demand, Alberta Health said.Three million more were scheduled to arrive every week through to mid-January, Alberta Health said.
On Monday, Hinshaw announced that the availability of PCR tests would be increasingly limited.
Alberta is now reserving PCR testing for people with risk factors for severe outcomes and those who live or work in high-risk settings.
Those who can be tested include continuing care residents, health-care workers and staff in acute and continuing care settings, shelters and correctional facilities.
Other Albertans who develop COVID-19 symptoms are being told to assume they have Omicron and isolate as required.
Alberta Health Services has updated the online COVID-19 assessment tool to help Albertans determine whether they are eligible for a PCR test, and what type of care to seek based on their symptoms.
With Alberta's Health Link 811 experiencing high daily call volumes, Albertans are being asked to use the tool to assess their symptoms before calling.
Alberta's infection, hospitalization and positive rates are at record highs as the new variant spreads through the province.