Rapid COVID-19 tests are currently hard to come by in British Columbia but a Lower Mainland non-profit is trying to change that — in the Fraser Health region, at least.
Engaged Communities Canada Society (ECCS) helps members of under-served communities access health-care and socio-economic supports and has recently started distributing take-home, rapid COVID-19 test kits for free to residents living within the boundaries of that health authority.
The kits are available to anyone living in the health region, which stretches from Burnaby to Hope, with locations for pickup changing daily. ECCS executive director Upkar Tatlay suggests people watch the society's Facebook, Instagram and Twitter feeds to find out when and where they can come get a kit.
"People really do want to have agency over their health ... we're just trying to do our best to make sure that we continue to empower them," Tatlay told CBC's The Early Edition host Stephen Quinn on Tuesday.
Each kit includes 25 Health Canada-approved tests, with instructions available in multiple languages. Using a nasal swab, the tests can tell in about 15 minutes if a person has COVID-19.
Tatlay recommends asymptomatic residents test themselves twice weekly to ensure they are not unknowingly moving around the community while infected.
Region under COVID restrictions
Last week, regional health restrictions were introduced in the eastern Fraser Valley due to a spike in cases and low vaccination rates.
The new regional public health order covers Abbotsford, Chilliwack, Hope, Mission and Agassiz-Harrison.
Officials said those communities are seeing a surge in the number of people diagnosed with COVID-19 — particularly those who are not vaccinated — and the caseload is putting a strain on regional hospitals.
Private gatherings in the east of the valley are now limited to five additional people or one additional household, while outdoor gatherings are limited to 10 people and organized events like weddings are limited to 10 people, or 50 outside, unless all participants are fully vaccinated.
Tatlay says the society is working alongside Fraser Health to determine where they will deploy in the coming days and will be prioritizing COVID hot spots.
"We're trying to be where the community is rather than have them come out to us," he said. "I can't provide exact locations just yet, but I can indicate that North Surrey, Newton, West Abbotsford, Chilliwack — these are all locations that you'll be able to find us."
In the U.K. and Germany, free rapid tests are available from the government through the mail and at pharmacies.
The trade-off with rapid tests, compared to polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests — considered the "gold standard" in testing for COVID-19 — is that while they give results in minutes compared to hours, they are not as accurate.