Canada’s top public health officer says supply limitations are forcing COVID-19 testing centres “to be smart” about who they can assess for the respiratory illness while Health Canada rushes to approve commercial testing kits.
Dr. Theresa Tam acknowledged Monday that laboratory supplies, as well as personal protective gear, were “key things” officials would like to see more of, as various jurisdictions clarified their criteria for who is eligible for tests.
She also said surging demand may in part be addressed by commercial kits and the possible adoption of equipment designed to test other illnesses.
“Having said that, there’s quite a lot of innovation in thinking in this field — for example, certain viral swabs might be in shorter supply so laboratories are actually testing other swabs that are in plentiful supply and how do we use those instead?”
She said manufacturers are also stepping up with new commercial kits.
“Health Canada is helping to review those really, really rapidly so that you have good quality testing kits and more of the commercial variety.”
The comments followed an urgent plea by the World Health Organization for countries to step up testing as much as possible.
Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus admonished jurisdictions around the world for failing to gather the data necessary for a comprehensive response to the pandemic.
“We have a simple message for all countries: test, test, test,” he said.
Nevertheless, various health officials said the push for broader testing has come up against practical limits and the need to prioritize of Canada’s most vulnerable citizens, including elderly residents of long-term care facilities and those who have travelled to COVID-19 hot zones.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau alluded to this over the weekend when he said he did not get tested in part because it would take a test away from someone who had symptoms. Trudeau is in self-isolation after his wife Sophie Gregoire Trudeau contracted the disease.
Tam said tests are being prioritized for certain types of cases: Travellers who have symptoms; those with severe respiratory illness, regardless of whether they’ve travelled; people in long-term care facilities with influenza-like illness; and hospital-related illness, including health-care workers who are sick. She emphasized, however, clinicians still have the ability to make their own judgement on who gets tested.