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Alberta changing eligibility for PCR tests

EDMONTON, AB – Provincial health authorities are making it more difficult for Albertans to obtain a COVID-19 PCR test.

Testing volumes are beginning to exceed the system’s capacity with wait times approaching 4 days and test result taking nearly 48 hours to be released.

To ensure that patient care decisions are supported by timely diagnostic information, PCR testing eligibility will now be focused on those who have the greatest risk of severe outcomes and those who live and work in high-risk settings. Like other provinces, Alberta’s testing resources have increasingly become stretched, and with the rising number of COVID cases due to Omicron, we now need to focus this testing capacity strategically to those most at risk of serious illness from COVID, says Minister of Health, Jason Copping.

Alberta Health Services has updated the online COVID-19 assessment tool to help Albertans determine whether they need a PCR test, what type of care to seek based on their symptoms and how to take care of symptoms at home with appropriate support.

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“While we have been used to managing COVID through widespread PCR testing, that approach is not possible with the Omicron variant. Currently, most people who have mild symptoms don’t need a PCR test. For those without risk factors such as immunosuppression, they should self-isolate and manage their symptoms at home, using a rapid test if they have one, says chief medical offer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw.

Health Link 811 continues to experience high daily call volumes. It is recommended Albertans use the online COVID-19 assessment tool to check their symptoms or the symptoms of someone they may be caring for before they call Health Link.

Those with mild illness should not visit emergency departments looking to be tested. Employers and organizations should also not be asking people with mild symptoms to have a PCR test to be eligible for sick time off work.

(Story written by Lee Griffi)

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