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The story of B.C.'s leading-edge COVID-19 test development

Long before the first case in B.C., our labs were already hard at work on a new COVID-19 diagnostic test, led by the Public Health Laboratory at the BC Centre for Disease Control.
Gloved hand holding test tube
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Clinical microbiologists in the BCCDC Public Health Lab (PHL) were watching the new virus emerging in China in early January. By mid-January, they had already started to work on a customized testing process for the COVID-19 virus.Donna Wilson and Dr. Mel Krajden

The proactive work by the BCCDC PHL team to develop a test was key to our provincial readiness, said Donna Wilson, PHSA's executive vice president, people, diagnostic and treatment services.

"Dr. Mel Krajden is one of my heroes," said Donna. "He foresaw that this virus…was going to have a major impact on the world and a major impact on labs in this province."

In the very early days of the pandemic, we had to send all samples to Canada's National Microbiology Lab in Winnipeg to confirm COVID-19 cases, lengthening the wait times for test results. Thanks to our labs' quick action, B.C. was the first province in Canada to be approved for local, provincial COVID-19 testing.

Click to expand:

Timeline infographic

Mobilizing a provincial lab network in less than two months  

After the test was developed and approved for use, it had to be rolled out on an urgent timeframe and provincial scale. 

Pam Ramsey and Dr. Blake GilksThis required unprecedented collaboration among B.C. labs, supported by collaborative leaders such as Pam Ramsay, interim chief administrative officer for Provincial Lab Medicine Services and Dr. Blake Gilks, chief lab medical officer for the COVID-19 lab response.

Before COVID-19, labs operated fairly separately around the province, in different public health authorities and private labs. But lab leaders mobilized quickly in response to the pandemic to build a first-of-its-kind and truly provincial network of labs throughout the last eight weeks.

The results of the network have been incredible.

Initially, B.C. could do about 200 COVID-19 tests per day. As of this writing, B.C. labs can now process more than 6000 COVID-19 tests a day and return test results within 24 hours. Soon, we expect capacity to expand even more – to over 8000 – with Fraser Health and Northern Health labs adding capacity for an additional 3000 tests.

Lab staff at work

Even as testing capacity increases using new tools, many steps must be done by hand, with dedicated lab staff labelling and logging every single sample, and triple-checking everything for accuracy.

Curious to see the steps of COVID-19 testing in B.C.'s labs?

With so much talk of testing, we wanted to show you the key steps involved, from collection to results. 


COVID-19 testing process infographic

You can also watch some of these steps happening in a real lab setting.


Messages of thanks 

Join the conversation and share your appreciation for lab professionals or any of our health care colleagues on Twitter and Facebook with the hashtag #healthcareheroes. Make sure to tag @PHSAofBC.




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