Small and medium businesses will now have access to rapid tests for COVID-19, the province announced May 12.
Participating community chambers of commerce would work directly with local businesses to get them the kits. The effort is focused on ensuring any exposure in the workplace is caught as soon as possible.
"This partnership gives businesses another leg up to move our economy forward. By making it easier to access rapid-testing kits when and where they need them, we are providing businesses with a vital tool to protect their workers and the Albertans they serve," Premier Jason Kenney said in a statement.
Ken Kobly, president of the Alberta Chambers of Commerce, said they are still waiting for the forms, applications, and recording documents, which is a typical part of the process. "Once we get that, it will be going out to the chambers of commerce, and then they will be letting us know if they are choosing to participate or not," Kobly said.
Although Kobly said the feedback he has received indicates that all chambers of commerce are excited to do this, he said, "I am sure that at this point we have some that just don't have the capacity to do it."
Once there is approval for the individual chambers of commerce, business owners who want to use the rapid-test kits can apply for them and pick them up at their community chambers. Kobly said businesses have to sign an agreement clarifying what they are going to use them for. The tests will then be shipped to the chambers, where they can be picked up within 72 hours.
Businesses do not have to participate, as screening is optional, and tests can only be used to screen employees. Still, Kobly said many chamber members seem to be in favour of the idea. "Judging by the number of phone calls that our community chambers right around the province took within 15 minutes after the premier and the health minister announced it, there are some folks out there who are very keen about implementing this," Kobly said.
James Radford, the owner of CrossFit Good & Evil in St. Albert, is one such person. Radford, who started his gym during the pandemic, said his saving grace was that he started his gym, as many cross-fitters do, from his garage, which has managed to keep costs down. Despite the low costs, the on-again and off-again closing of his business has meant Radford has had to look for other means of employment during shutdowns. "I basically work part-time at Home Depot now just so that when this happens, I can rely on something like that because I checked, and I have not been in business long enough, and I don't have enough financial records to really qualify for any of the province’s grants," Radford said.
Radford, who was once a close contact of a positive case, said the tests could help clear the air quickly. "Any time you hear of a positive case that you have come in contact with, you automatically start thinking, 'Who have I come in contact with,' " Radford said. Though it may be too expensive to be feasible, Radford said he wonders if numbers wouldn't go right down if everyone had daily access to rapid testing, and could stay home if there was a positive result.
Business owner Lindsey Hedstrom of Bella Maas Boutique said she has fared OK through all this and hasn't had to lay off employees this time around, even though they are working fewer hours. She said she can see the benefit of the tests to an employer, but also how it could have its challenges.
Some of these challenges could be the responsibility of organizations associated with testing and having a trained individual to test, or even pushback from employees on testing. But for many business owners who can't afford to keep closing, the idea of pre-emptively stopping an outbreak that makes multiple people sick may be the peace of mind they are looking for.
A business does not need to be a member of a community chamber to apply for it. Kobly said they can get the rapid tests directly from Alberta Health Services (AHS). This means businesses with community chambers that do not have the capacity to participate can still access the rapid tests they need.
The rapid tests are only to be used on asymptomatic cases, and if someone tests positive or has symptoms, they are to be redirected to AHS for regular COVID-19 screening. Efforts such as these are to help the province keep numbers down as businesses reopen.
How quickly the program rolls out will depend on many factors, starting with paperwork and approvals. On May 14, community chambers of commerce, including the St. Albert Chamber of Commerce, still could not comment on the program. Although business owners may be eager to get started, Kobly has asked for their patience as it is implemented in communities around the province.