Manitoba now using rapid antigen tests at COVID-19 testing sites, using PCR tests sparingly

Manitoba will be using rapid antigen tests at all of its COVID-19 testing sites in the province.

Deputy Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Jazz Atwal made the announcement today (Wed).

Atwal says Manitobans testing positive, via a rapid antigen test, should consider themselves having the virus, notify close contacts and follow current self-isolation rules.

Those eligible for a rapid antigen test include:

  • individuals age five and older with symptoms of COVID-19
  • asymptomatic household close contacts of someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 and who are exempt from self-isolation (quarantine)
  • those advised by public health officials

More information about the rapid tests can be found here.

Locations of testing sites by health region can be found here.

However, Dr. Atwal says PCR tests will still be used for healthcare workers, workers providing direct care in a long-term care facility, people at high risk for more severe illness, or in a situation where a PCR test is necessary.

Manitobans eligible for a PCR test include:

  • symptomatic people who fall into one of the following groups:
    • hospitalized patients
    • patients seeing a physician if the physician determines that a PCR COVID-19 test is important for medical management
    • children or others who are unable to do a self-test and/or at home test
    • people with an immune system moderately to severely weakened by disease or medical treatment
    • people who may be eligible for COVID-19 treatment and determined by a prescribing clinician to require a PCR test
    • people experiencing homelessness or are under-housed
    • people who have traveled outside of Canada in the past 14 days
  • people who tested positive on a rapid antigen test and are
    • health care workers who provide direct patient care and first responders
    • staff who have direct contact with patients, residents, and clients in hospitals and congregate living settings/residential care facilities (including personal care homes, assisted living, group homes, shelters and correctional institutions)
    • asymptomatic designated persons as described in the Orders Requiring Vaccination or Testing for Designated Persons
    • designated family caregivers of a personal care home (PCH) resident
    • symptomatic residents in congregate living settings/residential care facilities if there has been no known case in the facility or specific unit in last 14 days
    • people who may be eligible for COVID-19 treatment and determined by a prescribing clinician to require a PCR test
    • elementary and secondary students, and children in childcare facilities
    • education and childcare staff (continued access at Fast Pass sites)
  • people admitted or transferred to or from hospital or PCHs
  • people having surgery
  • high-risk contacts and asymptomatic/symptomatic people as part of initial investigation in the context of confirmed or suspected outbreaks in high-risk settings, including hospitals, congregate living settings/residential care facilities as directed by public health;
  • people advised by public health officials;
  • residents of First Nation communities; and
  • before travel to or return to First Nations and Indigenous and Northern Relations communities.

Those not eligible include:

  • asymptomatic domestic travelers after arrival / return to Manitoba
  • asymptomatic non-household close contacts
  • asymptomatic household close contacts who are required to self-isolate (quarantine)
  • anyone who has tested positive for COVID-19 but has completed their isolation period and no longer has symptoms

Atwal says this switch is being done to free up testing capacity at the provincial laboratory, where 6,800 tests still need to be processed.

He also acknowledged this move will lead to an under-reporting of positive cases, since the province uses PCR tests for its case counts and other COVID-19 statistics.

“Historically with the previous variant, with Delta, we knew for every case we identified, we missed out on 4. With this Omicron variant, likely for every case we identify we’re missing out maybe 8, maybe 10 cases as well.” Atwal said.

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