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Bonnie Henry warns businesses against COVID testing

False positives could overburden hospitals, health officer warns
B.C. provincial health officer Bonnie Henry
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry is cautioning businesses against COVID testing

B.C.’s provincial health officer has warned businesses against independent testing of asymptomatic employees for the COVID-19 virus.

“At this time, it is recommendation that only people with symptoms or people otherwise identified by a health professional should be tested for COVID-19,” Dr. Bonnie Henry said in a June 17 letter to the province’s business community.

Henry said B.C.’s approach to testing is evolving based on epidemiology, testing capacity and methodology and a growing understanding of the virus.

She said routine testing of people -including those in schools, prior to surgery or other procedures, or as a condition of employment or for travel – is not recommended.

“It is important to understand that testing can result in false positive and false negatives, particularly in asymptomatic people and in people who are very early on in the illness or who may be incubating the disease,” Henry said in the letter.

She said serological tests for the virus causing COVID19 is recommended only to focus on informing the public health response and for clinical research investigations.

“If large numbers of false positive tests were to occur through routine testing of asymptomatic people, this could create a significant burden for the public health system and would provide little value in protecting your business and could impede our ability to protect the health of all British Columbians,” Henry said.

The doctor acknowledged some business may wish to conduct precautionary testing of asymptomatic employees as part of their business operations.

But, she said, it’s “critically important to remember that asymptomatic testing does not replace other measures to prevent transmission, including ensuring handwashing stations are stocked and available, monitoring of employees for symptoms and ensuring employees stay home when feeling ill, and providing space for safe physical distancing, putting up physical barriers when appropriate.”

However, she added, businesses need to know private testing of asymptomatic individuals is against the public health guidances.

Those wishing to do it must establish processes and fund related infrastructure to meet legislative requirements related to testing and public health follow up for a reportable health condition, Henry said.

Such work by businesses could involve hiring people to conduct contact tracing under public health direction for employees who test positive and ensuring employee contact details are available to public health.

“For private laboratory testing, businesses must, at their own expense, use an existing or establish a new private laboratory to conduct testing. Private laboratories must be accredited under the Diagnostic Accreditation Program, operate per the stipulations set out under the Laboratory Services Act, align with provincial privacy and security requirements, and conform to related policies and regulations,” Henry said.

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