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Free COVID-test kits for people 70 and older as early as Friday; wider distribution as supply increases

New two-dose Novavax vaccine to be available in B.C. within 10 days, Dr. Bonnie Henry says, and supplies of treatments for those who test positive for COVID-19 have increased.
People 70 and over will be able to present their B.C. Services Card at pharmacies to get free COVID-19 test kits. Once supply increases, the province anticipates the tests will quickly be made available to those under 70. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

Free rapid antigen tests in packs of five will be available in pharmacies for seniors as early as Friday, Health Minister Adrian Dix said Wednesday. Once supply increases, the province anticipates the tests will quickly be made available to those under 70.

People age 70 and over, who are at higher risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19, will be invited to show their B.C. Services Card at pharmacies to get a free test kit. There will be a limit of one kit per person within a 28-day period.

If you’re picking up a kit for a family member or another person, you must provide their name and date of birth and show their B.C. Services Card.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the goal is for the take-home tests to go first to those at most risk of severe illness — to help them, for example, screen those coming into their homes.

“This is something that people can use to help manage their own risk around them,” said Henry.

She said a positive result from a rapid test is considered reliable, but a negative result does not necessarily mean it’s OK to drop other layers of protection or gather with others.

If you have symptoms, “you need to isolate until you’re five days out or until you’re better [and] don’t have symptoms.”

Higher-risk people who are symptomatic are advised to seek a PCR test through a COVID testing centre, rather than going to a pharmacy to get a test.

About 865,000 test packages are ready for distribution to pharmacies.

The B.C. Pharmacy Association will have information starting Friday about which locations are supplying rapid antigen tests.

So far, B.C. has received 22.2 million tests, of which 14.8 million have been distributed to COVID-19 testing sites, long-term care sites, health care workers, rural and remote Indigenous communities, K-12 schools, businesses and organizations, childcare facilities, and pharmacies. The province is expected to receive 12 million tests in three-million-batch weekly intervals over the next month.

Anyone who receives a positive rapid test result is asked to report the result, self-isolate and notify close contacts. Instructions can be found on the B.C. Centre for Disease Control website.

Henry noted that Health Canada has approved the two-dose Novavax vaccine, taken 21 days apart, will be available in B.C. in about a week to 10 days.

Novavax has been shown to be 90 per cent effective at preventing infection and is a good option for people who need to be fully vaccinated quickly for work or personal reasons and for those who have had a reaction to an mRNA vaccine, she said.

Henry advised those interested to call the province’s Get Vaccinated phone line at 1-833-838-2323 to have doses reserved.

Supplies of COVID anti-viral treatments increased

Supplies of treatments have increased in B.C. for those who test positive for COVID-19.

Sotrovimab must be given through an infusion and requires a visit to a clinic or hospital, while Paxlovid is an anti-viral pill that can be taken at home.

The treatments are prescribed by a doctor for people who test positive for COVID — not in hospital — and are at high risk of severe illness, including those designated extremely clinically vulnerable. They’re also available for those who are over age 60 and are not fully vaccinated and either have underlying health conditions or are Indigenous, said the Health Ministry.

Options for treatment if you’re infected with COVID-19 can be found on the provincial government's COVID site.

Henry said the treatments are important to help prevent severe illness, but it’s more important to prevent getting sick in the first place through vaccination.

Henry said while cases of Omicron-driven COVID-19 are declining, there continues to be a high level of transmission in the community and it’s in some schools.

While COVID-19 is worst for elderly people it also proved deadly for four people in their 40s in just the last few days, said Henry.

The BA.2 Omicron variant has been detected in B.C. and is being monitored as it slowly increases its presence. However, the Delta-Omicron mixed variant — causing clusters in the U.K. and Australia — has not been found through whole genome sequencing of positive COVID tests in B.C.

Henry said in the next few weeks, the province will make decisions about lifting more restrictions. The next review dates are March 15 and April 12.

“We have committed to reviewing things in the next few weeks with the goal of removing additional measures as soon as we possibly can,” she said.

The province reported 799 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, including 140 in Island Health. There were 653 individuals hospitalized with COVID-19 in B.C., including 108 in intensive care.

Outbreaks at Nanaimo Regional General Hospital and Chemainus Health Care Centre have been declared over, for a total of 29 facilities with ongoing outbreaks.

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