VANCOUVER -- Worried health-care workers are calling for mass testing in care homes to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

SafeCare BC, the health and safety association that represents the province’s 28,000 continuing care workers, wants a provincial policy that would see testing of all residents and staff at care homes whenever there is an outbreak.

“Staff are currently living in fear that they could bring COVID into the care home, or home to their families. This is a huge mental health burden that our health-care workers shouldn’t have to bear,” said Jen Lyle, CEO of SafeCare BC

“As we are seeing increased community spread of COVID-19, a mass testing strategy for those living and working in care homes makes sense. It’s a prevention tool, because the sooner we can identify cases, the better we can reduce the risk of transmission."

She said mass testing is already happening in Alberta and Ontario, and that it helps manage the spread of the virus sooner and contributes to the psychological well-being of staff.

Lyle said rapid testing should also be done for visitors entering care homes.

“With almost 70 per cent of COVID-related deaths in B.C. residents of care homes, and with the number of cases continuing to rise in B.C., we can’t delay in implementing a province-wide policy on mass testing,” said Lyle.

She said cases weren’t identified as early as they could have been if mass testing had been done.

“And this can have tragic consequences for our seniors and for those who care for them,” she said.

Meanwhile, the B.C. Care Providers Association has called for ongoing and routine testing of staff and visitors to care homes.

“The best way to ensure there isn’t an outbreak is adequate screening,” the association's Terry Lake told CTV News last week.

“Our testing regime is the one weak area that I’d like to see strengthened."

B.C. Seniors Advocate Isobel McKenzie said it’s worth examining whether there should be a testing strategy for workers in all health-care settings, but told CTV News last week that she wasn’t sure regular testing without a positive case would be effective.

“The last study that I saw showed a thousand tests of asymptomatic to produce one test positive. And so these are the trade-offs,” she said.