Editor's column: Why is there no COVID-19 testing site in Richmond?

There’s been plenty of public debate about testing or not testing, but last week that conversation turned personal for me.

My dad spent the week at Richmond Hospital. The day after he was admitted, we learned there was an “outbreak” of COVID-19 there. They only had two cases, but a couple of days later that number was four.

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That said, I knew he was being kept off the unit where the outbreak was, and the chance of him catching anything was slim.

Still, he’s my dad...

Soon after he got there, I asked if he could be tested for COVID-19 before he came home to live with my mom in quarantine.

I was told, no, that wouldn’t happen. Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) does not test asymptomatic people. The reasons being those tests are not entirely accurate and can sometimes result in a false negative. Also, while there isn’t a shortage of tests, resources need to be used judiciously and everything has its limits.

I get that, particularly the bit about tests on asymptomatic people being less reliable. But while they don’t catch all cases, they do catch some. For that reason, jurisdictions such as Alberta are implementing programs of testing asymptomatic people.

Other experts have argued that it’s only through mass testing of symptomatic and asymptomatic people will we get a handle on this virus.

In our case (as I argued with the hospital doctor) we’re talking about a 92-year-old man with a heart condition leaving a hospital where there’s been an outbreak to go live with a 92-year-old woman, also with a heart condition — in a seniors’ residence.

Surely, you can make an exception.

Again, no. But here’s the funny thing. (Maybe not so funny.) Talking to his nurse after he’d been sent to Vancouver General Hospital (VGH) for a angiogram, she tells me not to worry, he was tested for COVID-19 and it was negative.

Huh?

VGH won’t allow anyone (symptomatic or otherwise) in their lab without first being tested for the virus, she explained.

Hate to be a stickler, but is anyone else hearing some inconsistency here?

Anyway, he’s home now, very much on the mend and trying to keep his distance from my mom — after 67 years of marriage, some habits die hard.

...But enough about us.

This whole little saga brings up the question of testing — who should be tested and under what circumstances?

It’s a question that is getting traction across the country and on Tuesday, B.C. provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, wrote an editorial recognizing there was debate/confusion and explained how the province’s approach to testing has evolved over the course of the pandemic.

Her argument makes sense.

Policies will and should adapt to changing conditions. Moreover, since we don’t have past experience to rely on, not everyone will agree on the best way forward so there will be some inconsistency.

Most of us can wrap our minds around that, even when our parents are at risk. What is less tolerable is no explanation.

At the News, late last week we learned there had been plans to establish a COVID-19 testing site at Thompson Community Centre.

We had asked earlier in the pandemic if such an idea was being considered as we had seen similar sites going up in other municipalities, but we got nothing back.

Now we know the plan, which was supported by the city, was suddenly axed by VCH. We’ve put in numerous calls to the health authority asking why the change of heart? Silence.

I’m no public health expert and I know better than to rant on about whether nixing the site plan was a good idea or not. But I do know many of us are asking about testing and why there isn’t more of it in Richmond. I also know that as citizens of this community we deserve an explanation.

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