There have been more than 400 people tested for COVID-19 virus in northern B.C., but test results could take up to two weeks.
The 408 tests were taken between March 13 and 21, and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry told CBC News today that northerners face delays in their results because of the time it takes to get the tests to the lab. On-site results are not yet available.
"The challenge has been, of course, in the north, the distances that we have to travel to get the test into a laboratory that's able to do this type of testing," Henry said.
"We've been working on that.... we'll shorten that time ... to get the test to an appropriate lab as quickly as possible," she said.
"The type of tests ... we have now need to be done in a laboratory with specialized equipment. So that is absolutely a challenge both in the north and in the Interior," said Henry.
There were nine reported COVID-19 cases in the Northern Health region as of March 25, their precise whereabouts not being reported by B.C. public health officials.
Henry said health officials have tested close to 30,000 people as of Tuesday, up from 17,912 tests March 20.
There are testing locations are operational in all communities across the Northern Health region; however, testing is by appointment and referral only.
Testing is focused on health care workers and people believed to be in contact with an infected person within the community, said Henry.
Despite reported hiccups by doctors in B.C. on testing and triage, Henry suggested B.C. is ahead of the curve.
“Our testing strategy early on helped us better understand what was happening in our community and when we started having community spread. And I think both in northern Italy and in our neighbours to the south, particularly in Washington State, not having access to that testing early on meant having to play catch up.”
Testing nevertheless remains marred by production and orders of test equipment, said Henry this week. Last week, the federal government expedited two pieces of equipment for sale to provincial health authorities.
Meanwhile, the province says there are nearly 3,900 hospital beds available throughout B.C. to prepare for an influx of patients.
It's not known how many beds are available in Fort St. John and the Peace region, including Fort Nelson.
Northern Health spokespersons in Prince George could not provide immediate details, but did say they are working to get localized and regional details on the virus situation in the north.
The Fort St. John Hospital has been effectively locked down: doors to the birthing centre and Peace Villa are now locked 24-7, while the main entrance from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m., and through the weekends. The emergency room is unlocked from 8 a.m. to midnight.
Visits throughout the hospital are restricted and all visitors must first be screened at the doors before being allowed to enter.
The health authority has said all hospitals, long-term care homes, and other health facilities are making plans to prepare.
"Our focus right now is ensuring that everyone has and understands the current public health advice for reducing risk of infection and preventing the spread of illness," it said.
"We will make every effort to inform a given broader community about specific or unique measures and changes to procedures or operational work that may affect the general public."
This is a developing story.
Email Managing Editor Matt Preprost at email@example.com.