Alberta pilots ‘pool testing’ to expand COVID-19 testing capacity

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“If successful, (AHS) will look to expand this practice over the coming weeks to increase capacity.”

At her Thursday update on COVID-19, Alberta chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said that of the 316,000 asymptomatic tests that had been conducted to that point, only 0.1 per cent had returned positive. At that rate, even if five asymptomatic samples are tested at once, the chance of a positive test among the pool would be less than half a percent.

The pooled testing is just one way Alberta is planning to up testing capacity ahead of September. Hinshaw said in early August that the province hoped to double capacity. Currently, Alberta has the ability to test up to 16,000 people per day, but average test daily rates hover around 8,000.

On Aug. 5, AHS put out a call for proposals to private vendors who can perform COVID-19 swabbing and testing on a contract basis, particularly for asymptomatic tests in rural areas.

All proposals are expected to be submitted by Monday. Even after private groups begin testing, AHS said they would continue to perform all testing of Albertans who are symptomatic, are close contacts with a known case or are in outbreaks or continuing-care settings.

The province is also hiring extra data-entry clerks and lab assistants to lighten the load within Alberta Precision Laboratory (APL) settings.

“As well, APL is securing additional automation for COVID-19 testing,” Wood said. “These approaches will help improve overall efficiencies, reduce wait times for results and allow us to increase our daily COVID-19 swabbing and testing capacity.”

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