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HomeBusinessCOVID Exclusive: As B.C. government ponders back-to-office plans, Dr. Henry cautions about testing

COVID Exclusive: As B.C. government ponders back-to-office plans, Dr. Henry cautions about testing


Bob Mackin

Provincial government operations in British Columbia may not be back to normal until December.

A May 21 memo in the Health Ministry, seen by, mentioned that the B.C. Public Service has started to consider ways to transition back to day-to-day business and has asked each division to make return-to-office plans.

B.C. Health ADM Ian Rongve

Assistant Deputy Health Minister Ian Rongve ordered all executive directors to have updated telework agreements signed-off by May 29 with a review date of Nov. 30.

“This will not only ensure that all staff have the necessary coverage through WorkSafeBC, but also allow us to plan for what in-office staffing may look like over the next six months,” said Rongve’s memo. “To be clear, if you are wishing to continue working from home on a full-time or part-time basis, your request will be accommodated.”

Meanwhile, the day after provincial coronavirus testing capacity increased to nearly 7,800 samples a day, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry gave a prepared statement that warned about the risks of false positives and false negatives.

It’s very important to understand that testing, however, right now can be unreliable particularly for people who don’t have symptoms or have very mild symptoms that they may not recognize,” Henry said during her June 2 news conference in Victoria. “Someone who is negative one day who has an exposure may actually be positive the next. The tests are not that great at picking this up early on. That’s why testing alone does not insulate a business from needing to have a plan.”

Dr. Bonnie Henry (left) and Health Minister Adrian Dix (Mackin)

Henry did not go into detail about testing statistics. has confirmed that while capacity has increased by 1,200-a-day since May 19, B.C.-wide testing activity has actually declined. There were 1,436 tests conducted May 31 and 1,197 on June 1. 

B.C. initially restricted tests to healthcare workers, seniors care home residents and patients at hospital emergency wards, which prompted Royal Columbian Hospital’s Dr. Sean Wormsbecker to blow the whistle.

On March 28, Wormsbecker accused B.C. of under-testing the population and low-balling the numbers

Health Minister Adrian Dix errantly told Question Period on March 23 that there were 3,500 tests a day on March 21 and 22. The actual numbers were 1,963 and 2,036, respectively. 

B.C. finally opened up testing to anyone with a doctor’s referral just before Easter weekend. Since the policy change, testing peaked at 2,783 on May 6.

A total 147,757 tests for coronavirus had been conducted through June 1. Henry’s June 2 report said 2,601 people had tested positive, with 207 cases still active. 

Testing sites with the most daily capacity are at St. Paul’s Hospital (2,228), B.C. Centre for Disease Control (2,000), Fraser Health (1,480), LifeLabs (600) and Island Health (460). There is also capacity for 396-a-day in Interior Health, 300 at Vancouver General Hospital and 264 at B.C. Children’s Hospital.

The province’s medical supplies procurement department in the Provincial Health Services Agency has bought a COVID Analyzer for $2 million from Roche Diagnostics of Laval, Que.

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