Local Journalism Initiative
A total of 587 COVID-19 swabs had been done to date in Hinton and the North Central Zone’s top doctor says that data shows testing rates have been steady with no real surges in demand.
AHS categorizes tests by positive and negative results, and doesn’t record how many of those tests were asymptomatic.
Those local tests are transported to the laboratory, mostly in Edmonton, and it can take anywhere between two to five days to get results.Transportation from Hinton may add time to get results back, as well if there is a sudden surge in demand.
“I do know that the lab has certainly and amazingly ramped up capacity between the early days. This all had to be developed new, this is a brand new virus and a brand new test. Things have become very much more streamlined and automated as we’ve gone,” said Dr. Kathryn Koliaska, North Central Zone Medical Officer of Health.
Nasal swabbing was initially developed and validated at the laboratory and later on they also validated throat swabs.
Both are effective swabs, but it can come down to supplies, sometimes provider experience and qualifications, and occasionally, client preference, Koliaska explained.
She added that additional tests can be done on one or the other in medical settings, and that sometimes there’s another rationale for nasal or throat swabs. From a COVID-19 perspective, more throat swabs than nasal are being done currently in the north zone.
Accuracy of the test is amazing, said Koliaska, although an erroneous result is possible in very rare circumstances, similar to other medical tests. While chances of inaccurate test results are extremely small, follow up tests can be done at the laboratory if something doesn’t seem right, or repeat tests can be done, according to Koliaska.
With numbers slowly ticking up again – Alberta had 1193 active cases on July 22, which is up from 333 in the first week of June – she noted it is hard to know what a second wave will look like until the province is well into it.
AHS can use the data collected from the first COVID-19 wave to determine how to move forward and with what restrictions.
“We have the ability to adjust what we’re doing in society to make it into a small little blip instead of a huge second wave,” Koliaska said.
Encouraging people to continue with their good hygiene habits and physical distancing is important as these measures have actually made a big difference, she added.
The only difference between when COVID-19 first entered the province and now, is that medical experts know a little bit more about how it spreads and about what works to prevent the spread.
Better testing is also available, leading to better decision making, Koliaska added.
Initially, the limited testing was targeted towards Albertans returning from international travel, but now testing is available for all symptomatic and asymptomatic Albertans.
“So much has been built and opened up compared to where we were at the beginning,” Koliaska said.
AHS created an integrated system consisting of a partnership with public health teams to make sure that people with positive results find out about them and are interviewed for contact tracing.
Those they were in contact with while they were at risk of spreading the virus are then given a heads up as well.
Positive tests results means those individuals and their close contacts must stay home and self isolate, especially now that AHS knows people can transmit the virus very early on, perhaps before symptoms show up, Koliaska said.
She noted it can be a very scary phone call to receive and there is a wide range of reactions depending on personal circumstances.
Conversations between AHS and the infected individual come from a public health point of view and protecting the public, but the results can impact everyone very differently.
“I think some of the support programs have helped but the positive tests do have implications for individuals and I think sometimes there can be a range of implications people may have,” Koliaska said.
As well, individuals may or may not remember where they were at each moment in the last number of days, which limits contact tracing.
Those contact tracing conversations vary depending on the person’s symptoms and how long they may have exposed anyone else. An exposure assessment is done in every contact case to determine further contact tracing and further recommendations.
The medical officer of health may become involved in making recommendations when complexities arise in certain cases.
Koliaska explained that the follow up of someone who was very symptomatic in a packed grocery store is very different from someone who was only mildly symptomatic and ran into a store at a non-peak period for five minutes.
“It really depends on circumstances, as it should be. It shouldn’t all be treated the same,” Koliaska said.
Individuals who test positive need to stay home for either 10 days from the first day they showed symptoms or until their symptoms resolve, whichever one of those conditions is longer, Koliaska added.
“If you’re sick for three days you need to stay home for ten, if you’re sick for 12 days you need to stay home for 12 days,” she said.
Another system is set up for those returning from international travel that will advise them of the protocols and review plans for self-isolation.
Check ups on those individuals aren’t done through AHS directly but AHS works with a multi stakeholder group.
Hinton has had three confirmed cases of COVID-19 during this pandemic, while Yellowhead County had two, and the entire north zone has had 454.
All Hinton cases have since recovered, with no deaths.
Ninety-three individuals are currently hospitalized in Alberta and 16 are admitted to the intensive care unit.
For more up to date information about COVID-19 in Alberta, go to covid19stats.alberta.ca. To book a COVID-19 test, go to myhealth.alberta.ca/Journey/COVID-19 and take the self assessment test.
Even without symptoms, the final question in the assessment will ask to take part in asymptomatic testing.
From there, a form will appear to fill out and a test location and time can be chosen.