COVID-19: B.C. seniors and those at high-risk to get free rapid tests and antiviral treatments

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      The B.C. government has announced two new COVID-19 initiatives to help both seniors and those at higher risk if infected.

      In separate February 23 releases, the Ministry of Health said that free rapid antigen tests will be available to seniors age 70 and older and that virtual assessments for eligibility to receive two antivital treatments will be made available to those at high risk if they contract COVID-19.

      Starting today (February 25), the rapid tests will be available at community pharmacies at no cost to those who qualify. One kit with five tests can be picked up every 28 days.

      "We started using rapid tests to protect those most vulnerable in our province, including those in long-term care, and now that we have at-home rapid tests available, we are expanding that strategy by making them available to all people 70 years and older," provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said in the release. "This will allow people to quickly test for COVID-19 when they have symptoms so they can keep themselves and their loved ones safe."

      Those eligible were asked to pick up the kits at community pharmacies while asymptomatic and to use them only if symptoms develop.

      B.C. announced earlier that students from kindergarten to Grade 12 would be eligible, starting this week, to bring home a kit of five rapid tests from school if family members becane symptomatic for COVID-19 infection.

      In the other COVID-19 initiative, virtual assessments for antiviral therapeutic treatments are now available for those deemed high risk who have confirmed cases of COVID-19 and are not hospitalized.

      The two antiviral medications available are Sotrovimab and Paxlovid. Sotrovimab is a human neutralizing monoclonal antibody that targets the spike protein of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. It must be administered by infusion in a clinic or hospital setting at present.

      Paxlovid is an antiviral medication that can be taken in pill form.

      To be most effective, both medications must be taken within five days of onset of symptoms of COVID-19 infection.

      The Health Ministry announcement said that high-risk infected individuals will be assessed during an online four-step process that can be accessed here.

      The treatments are now available to the following high-risk people: those who have been determined to be "clinically extremely vulnerable"; those over 60 who have one or more chronic conditions and who are not fully vaccinated; and those who are Indigenous, over 60, and not fully vaccinated.