COVID-19 Rapid Tests Rolling Out – But Not Needed For Mild Cases

Testing if necessary but not necessarily testing. That might be the best way to summarize public health advice about testing for COVID-19 as the Omicron variant sweeps across the world.

In BC, rapid tests for use by individuals at home are going out–or have arrived already–to health centres in First Nations communities as well as other facilities around the province. The tests are also called rapid antigen tests or point-of-care tests because they are portable, rapid, and provide results at the point of testing–usually within 15 to 20 minutes depending on the brand.

“Rapid tests are being used because the number of people seeking COVID-19 tests has exceeded the province's ability to test them," said provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.

Even with hundreds of thousands of rapid tests going out around the province–with millions more on the way–Dr. Henry advised that testing is not required when only mild symptoms are present.

“You likely have COVID-19," she said of people with cold or flu-like symptoms. “The onset is quick and mostly mild if you are protected by vaccination."

In these cases, she advises to “stay home for five days; continue to wear a well-fitting mask and avoid high-risk settings."

High-risk settings include being in close, indoor contact with Elders, unvaccinated or partially vaccinated people, people with higher risk medical conditions and those in hospital, long-term care or other group living facilities.

People who are exhibiting symptoms can use at-home rapid tests to see if they need to manage their care or get further medical treatment in the case of worsening symptoms. A positive result from an at-home rapid test is also acceptable to access self-isolation supports available through the First Nations Health Authority (FNHA). Support is available for accommodation, travel and meals if people need to self-isolate. Call 1-888-305-1505 for more information or see the Community Support Guide linked on the Community Leaders page at

The at-home tests are only effective when used by people who are showing symptoms of COVID-19. They aren't useful for people who don't have symptoms even if they have COVID-19 because those people may not yet have enough of the virus in their bodies to show a positive result.

That's why Dr. Henry uses the traffic light explanation:

“Rapid tests are red lights not green lights–green doesn't mean you are exempt from [pandemic public health] restrictions," she said, referring to the fact that a positive result from a rapid test is most likely accurate but a negative result may not be.

People who test positive for COVID-19 with an at-home test are advised to:

  • Self-isolate (for at least five days from the first day you had symptoms if you are fully vaccinated, or at least 10 days if you are not)
  • Manage symptoms
  • Notify close contacts
  • Report positive test results via a secure online form from the BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC)

The advice for individuals to self-report COVID-19 cases and notify their close contacts are new developments in direct response to the rapid increase in cases that has overwhelmed the public health system's capacity to manage these tasks. Public tracking of COVID-19 cases is now focusing more on monitoring severe illness, hospitalization, ICU rates, and deaths.

Indigenous people may check with their local health clinic or health care provider if they think they need a COVID-19 test. Some First Nations communities have access to another type of rapid test that provides results of similar quality to lab-based tests for people with COVID-19 symptoms. Trained health care providers administer these tests using equipment such as GenX, IDNow and others.

Public health officials continue to emphasize that vaccination is the most important protection against any COVID-19 variant. They encourage people age five and older to get fully vaccinated if they are not already and if they are, to get a booster shot as soon as they are eligible for it.

Dr. Shannon McDonald, the FNHA's Chief Medical Officer, says widespread vaccination is the best way to bring COVID-19 under control. She joined Dr. Henry in encouraging people to find optimism and hope even during these trying times of yet another COVID-19 wave.

“Let's take comfort in the fact that winters and tough times in life do eventually come to an end–that 'this too shall pass' and there is much to look forward to," she said in a joint New Year's message with FNHA CEO Richard Jock.

You can read the rest of that message on


Information about COVID-19 testing

What to do if y​ou have, or suspect you have COVID-19

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