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Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro speaks during a news conference in Calgary, on May 29, 2020.Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press

Alberta is expanding rapid testing for the novel coronavirus.

Health Minister Tyler Shandro says the tests will screen asymptomatic staff at all long-term care and supportive living facilities.

There will also be a new rapid testing program at Suncor Energy’s base plant in Fort McMurray and the First Nation and Metis community of Fort McKay.

Shandro says the tests are critical to keeping COVID-19 from spreading and will begin as early as next week.

Rapid tests have been used since December at hospitals, homeless shelters and long-term care facilities deemed to be potential outbreak sites.

The tests give results within an hour, allowing for quicker tracking and quarantining.

“Rapid tests can mitigate or prevent outbreaks in areas where we’ve seen COVID-19 do its worst,” Shandro told a virtual news conference Tuesday.

There have been more than 1,700 deaths from COVID-19 in Alberta. Shandro said two-thirds of those deaths have been in long-term care or designated supportive living facilities.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, reported 195 new infections Tuesday. There were 427 people in hospital due to COVID, 78 of whom were in intensive care.

There were 5,831 active cases. In total in Alberta, 1,726 people have died from the virus.

The large number of COVID-19 infections in some places makes it more likely for new variants of the virus to emerge. Science Reporter Ivan Semeniuk explains how vaccines may not be as effective against these new strains, making it a race to control and track the spread of variants before they become a dangerous new outbreak.

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