As Nova Scotia continues to be burdened by high case numbers of Omicron, the province is adjusting how it's conducting COVID-19 testing.
Starting Monday, Dec. 27, people who are deemed close contacts or have symptoms must complete the province's online self-assessment to find out which test they require.
Only certain people will be eligible to book an appointment for a PCR test at a testing centre including people who live in congregate settings, anyone being admitted to a hospital and health care workers.
It also includes people who are at increased risk of severe disease such as people older than 50, unvaccinated people older than 12 and people who are pregnant.
Moreover, two other groups can book PCR tests. This includes unvaccinated domestic travellers who need two negative test results to stop isolating in Nova Scotia as well as rotational workers and specialized workers who are not fully vaccinated and are required to get tested up to three times.
Most people who are close contacts or symptomatic and complete an online self-assessment will be directed to pick up a take-home rapid test from a testing centre.
"We have finite resources for lab-based testing, and we also have a limited supply of rapid tests over the next few weeks. We need to use those resources wisely given the current epidemiology," Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia's chief medical officer of health, said in a news release. "Our priority for PCR testing has to be on people who are most vulnerable to disease and people who are needed to keep our health care system running. But everyone who needs a COVID-19 test will get one."
In December, more than a million rapid tests were distributed across Nova Scotia.
While the province first encouraged people to use them as a precaution when gathering, they should now only be used when people are identified as close contacts or become symptomatic.
"Nobody should be using these precious resources every few days just to feel safe. We need to focus most testing on people who have symptoms or are close contacts," said Dr. Strang. "For at least the next few weeks, everyone needs to limit socializing to their consistent group of 10 which includes their own household, so there shouldn't be a need for a lot of testing for social occasions."
People who are symptomatic or identified as a close contact must immediately self-isolate.
Between Dec. 24 and Dec. 26, these people can book a PCR test if appointments are available or get tested at a pop-up testing site at the Halifax Convention Centre or Dartmouth's Alderney Landing. The new rules come into effect Dec. 27.
When people test positive on a rapid test, they must notify public health by emailing their name, date of birth, health card number (if they have one) and contact information to PublicHealthPOCT@nshealth.ca.
They also need to advise their close contacts and follow directions for people who test positive.
Public Health will only continue notifying close contacts in long-term care facilities, hospitals, corrections facilities, shelters, First Nations communities, other congregate living situations, public schools and childcare facilities.
For more than a week, Nova Scotia has been reporting hundreds of new Omicron COVID-19 cases daily. On Friday, the province announced 611 new cases.