UPDATE: 4:40 p.m.
With new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations declining in B.C., Dr. Bonnie Henry says she'll be "reviewing" the province's remaining restrictions in the next few weeks.
The number of COVID-19 cases across British Columbia are “levelling off” according to Dr. Bonnie Henry, and the “encouraging trends” means she will review the remaining restrictions in the next few weeks.
During Wednesday's press conference, Dr. Henry noted the decline in transmission and COVID hospitalizations across the province in recent weeks is "encouraging."
Last week, Dr. Henry announced the easing of most of the province's COVID-19 restrictions, save for the mandatory use of masks and vaccine cards in public indoor places.
“Our progress remains on track and we are continuing to see this steady decline and these are positive and encouraging trends,” she said. “We have committed to reviewing things in the next few weeks with the goal of removing additional measures as soon as we possibly can.”
Health Minister Adrian Dix announced COVID-19 rapid tests will soon be available free of charge to British Columbians through pharmacies, with those 70 and older being able to access them by Friday.
“These are for people to have at home to use when they need to make a decision about what to do when they have symptoms in the future,” Dr. Henry said.
“We know there's a pent-up demand out there and we finally have enough that we can distribute them out more broadly to people.”
She noted that people who currently have symptoms shouldn't go to pharmacies to get the rapid tests, but should instead go to testing centres to receive a PCR test or a take-home rapid test.
While the free-of-charge pharmacy tests will be available to seniors as of Friday, Dr. Henry said she expects everyone to have access to the kits of five tests within three or four weeks. Each person will have access to a kit of five every 28 days.
“It is something that will help us for the future, for the next few weeks or months, but really importantly, these are tools that we can get used to using in certain situations for helping manage our own risk and risks of our families,” Dr. Henry said.
She also noted B.C. will be receiving the recently approved Novavax COVID-19 vaccine in the next 7-10 days. This vaccine is not an mRNA vaccine like the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, and Dr. Henry said those who had concerns about the mRNA technology may feel more comfortable with the more traditional protein subunit vaccine.
“It's a tried and true methodology of making vaccines, and we know the immune system responds well,” Dr. Henry said. “The efficacy in the trials is upwards of 90% at preventing infection.”
ORIGINAL: 3:05 p.m.
British Columbians will soon be able to get their hands on COVID-19 rapid tests from pharmacies free of charge.
Wednesday, the Ministry of Health announced people over 70 years of age will be able to get free rapid antigen test kits from B.C. pharmacies as soon as Friday. Each kit contains five tests, and people will be able to get a kit every 28 days.
“Once distribution has started and supply grows, a broadening to younger ages is expected to happen quickly and will be communicated via our government COVID-19 website,” the Ministry said in Wednesday's presentation.
“Individuals will present their BC Services Card at the pharmacy and be given their test kit free of charge.”
Since Dec. 13, the province has distributed 14.8 million rapid tests: to testing sites (1.5 million), long-term care homes (2 million), healthcare workers (1.7 million), rural and Indigenous communities (1 million), K-12 schools (2.7 million), post-secondary schools (1.9 million) and others.
Last week, the province announced additional distribution of rapid tests to those in K-12 schools, with students being able to take home tests.
The province has 7.4 million tests remaining in its inventory, and another 3 million are expected to come from the federal government every week for the next month.
“Increased test availability means that more members of the general population will be able to access tests to use to understand their own symptoms and illness and to take action to limit transmission to their friends, family and work, including those at higher risk,” the Ministry of Health says.