How Alberta has managed to do more COVID-19 tests than any other province

To date, Alberta has completed just over 20,000 COVID-19 tests — more than any other province in Canada.

That’s been possible due to existing infrastructure, the early availability of testing kits, collaboration with universities and a testing process that runs around the clock, according to Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw.

“One of the advantages we have in Alberta is our provincial lab for public health, which is in the Alberta Precision Laboratories,” Hinshaw said during a Facebook live appearance broadcast this week.

“They have an amazing setup and they work very hard to have cutting edge technology that enables us to respond quickly.”

The same lab was able to do local testing for Ebola during the outbreak in West Africa, she noted, and it had a leg up when the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 began spreading globally.

“When this outbreak started in China and testing became available in Canada, our lab was one that got the testing kits from the national lab and built some local capacity,” Hinshaw said.

“And then, they have really just reached out to colleagues locally. They’ve worked with universities … and one of things they’re doing is they’re running their testing 24/7.”

Alberta chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw updates media on the COVID-19 situation in the province during a briefing in Edmonton on Friday, March 20, 2020. (Jason Franson/Canadian Press)

To make that happen, Hinshaw said health officials had to expand their roster of trained people capable of performing the tests, to ensure a steady stream of staff.

“So they have people who they’ve cross-trained to come in, so their equipment doesn’t sit idle,” she said. “I just can’t say enough about the work of the lab and how amazing they’ve been.”

Testing capacities have been ramping up, as well. On Tuesday, Alberta performed more than 2,000 tests for the first time in a single day. On Wednesday, just over 2,900 were completed and then another 2,800 on Thursday.

Test volumes are also growing across the country.

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said on Friday that 10,000 tests had been completed nationwide in the 24 hours since Thursday, alone.

A growing chorus of global experts are calling on counties around the world to test more frequently for COVID-19, including among people not showing symptoms, as a way to monitor and combat the pandemic.

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