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Phases of COVID-19 testing in BC

How COVID-19 diagnostic testing and laboratory test guidelines have changed in British Columbia over time.

COVID-19 diagnostic testing has been available in BC since January, 2020. Within days of China releasing genetic information about the virus that causes COVID-19 on January 10, BC had developed a test.

BC's testing strategy has changed over time and has been characterized by four phases:

  1. Exposure-based testing
  2. Targeted testing
  3. Expanded testing
  4. Symptom-based testing.  

While COVID-19 testing was originally centralized at the BCCDC Public Health Laboratory (BCPHL), testing capacity expanded to other BC laboratories over time.

Phase 1 - January 2020

Exposure-based testing in travelers with symptoms, or contacts of presumed and confirmed cases.

Phase 2 - March 16th

Targeted testing of individuals with respiratory symptoms who are most vulnerable to severe illness and the people who work with these individuals: 

(a) hospitalized or likely to be hospitalized patients, 
(b) health care workers, 
(c) residents of long term care facilities, or 
(d) part of an investigation of a cluster or outbreak.

Phase 3 -  April 9th

Expanded testing to priority populations for whom results would change their care or the management of the case:

(a) residents of remote, isolated or Indigenous communities,
(b) people living and working in congregate settings (e.g. correctional facilities),
(c) people who are homeless or have unstable housing,
(d) essential service providers (e.g. first responders), or
(e) returning travellers identified at a point of entry to Canada.

Phase 4 – April 21st

Symptom-based testing of all individuals with symptoms compatible with COVID-19, however mild.

Testing guidelines 

To view archived testing guidelines and changes over time, see the Archived Summary of Testing Guidelines.

Timeline of BC's COVID-19 lab testing expansion

After the COVID-19 diagnostic test was developed and approved for use, it was rolled out to labs across the province to increase capacity and ensure patients and health care providers could get results quickly. 


As external labs began testing for the virus, known as SARS-CoV-2, there was a validation period during which all positive specimens were retested at the BCPHL. Following the validation period, each external lab began reporting confirmed positive specimens independently.

SOURCE: Phases of COVID-19 testing in BC ( )
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