Letters: Richmond's medical health officer responds

Dear Editor,

 Re: “Why is there no COVID-19 testing site in Richmond?” Voices, May 14.

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We appreciate the opportunity to provide accurate information to Richmond residents, especially during the rapidly evolving COVID-19 pandemic, so we’re happy to address the questions raised in your column of May 14: Why is there no COVID-19 testing site in Richmond?

First, regarding the public debate around testing or not testing, the answer from us at Vancouver Coastal Health is: if you have symptoms of COVID-19 — even very mild symptoms — get tested!

We’ve moved into a new phase for this pandemic, in which broad testing is a critically important criteria for the re-opening of our society and economy. As we increase our interactions with family, friends, neighbours and co-workers, we must be able to identify new cases early, and follow up with their contacts quickly. That’s why anyone in the VCH region with new onset of cold, influenza or COVID-19-like symptoms, however mild, can now be assessed for COVID-19 testing.

Those symptoms include fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath, sore throat, runny nose, nasal congestion, painful swallowing, loss of sense of smell, headache, muscle aches, fatigue or loss of appetite.

However, if you have no symptoms we don’t recommend a test. The test is not reliable in people who have no symptoms. Even if you have been in contact with someone with COVID-19, testing before symptoms start can result in a false negative result, leading to a sense of confidence and contact with others in the community which could lead to transmission of the virus. If you think you’ve been exposed — for example you’ve returned from travel, or had contact with someone who has COVID-19 — we ask that you self-isolate for the incubation period of 14 days. If you get symptoms at any point in that time frame, get tested. 

This policy is the same as in other provinces, which is to test anyone with symptoms, and undertake asymptomatic testing only in certain outbreak settings under the direction of a Medical Health Officer. We did not undertake asymptomatic testing of all patients at Richmond Hospital because the outbreak was confined to a single unit only, and therefore it was not necessary to test other patients in the hospital.

Testing is available in all of our VCH communities. In fact, there are testing sites all across the Lower Mainland and all British Columbians have access to all assessment and testing centres across the province. In Richmond, the testing centre is located at Richmond Hospital and is open to the public with referrals from family doctors or nurse practitioners. It has a separate entrance and exit with improved access for those with mobility concerns. Richmond residents with moderate to severe illness can also be assessed and tested at the Emergency Department. The hospital has protective measures in place and is prepared to safely receive and care for individuals who need COVID-19 testing as well as patients visiting for surgical, ambulatory and community services, diagnostic imaging and lab testing.

As part of our ongoing planning and response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we explored the possibility of setting up an additional testing site in Richmond if it was needed. However, close monitoring of volume levels has indicated the current site has enough capacity to meet the needs of Richmond residents. We will continue to evaluate demand, and if it outpaces capacity at our current Richmond testing site we may set up a second site. 

For more information on COVID-19 and testing, please visit vch.ca/COVID19.

Meena Dawar

VCH Medical Health Officer


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