Hundreds of people wait in line for hours at a COVID assessment centre at Women’s College Hospital during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto on Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Feds promise help for surging COVID-19 test demand but won’t OK rapid-test tech yet

Health Canada has received applications for 14 different tests that can be done quickly

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is promising to do more to help provinces respond to soaring demands for COVID-19 testing but there is still no indication of when the government will approve the tests that can deliver results in mere minutes.

Health Minister Patty Hajdu has said her department isn’t satisfied that the testing systems submitted for approval yield accurate enough results.

In Wednesday’s throne speech, the government said it is “pursuing every technology and every option for faster tests for Canadians.” Once they are approved, the government promises to deploy them quickly, and is creating a “testing assistance response team” in the meantime to help with the insatiable growth in demand.

“Canadians should not be waiting in line for hours to get a test,” Gov. Gen. Julie Payette read from the speech Wednesday.

And yet they are.

In Kitchener, Ont., Wednesday, people began lining up at a drive-thru testing site at 2:30 a.m. five hours before it opened. By 7:30 a.m. the Grand River Hospital site was at capacity and by 9:15 it had closed entirely because impatient people were getting aggressive with staff.

In Ottawa, people reported on social media that they were arriving at one testing site before 5 a.m. to find dozens of people in line ahead of them. All the city’s main testing sites have reached capacity by mid-morning now for more than a week.

“People lining up to be tested is a problem,” said Raywat Deonandan, an epidemiologist at the University of Ottawa.

Deonandan said he understands why governments are reluctant to wave through tests that aren’t delivering the highest quality of results, but he said there are ways to use them without risking safety.

“They can be surveillance tools,” he said. “This is what I call the failure of imagination on the part of people that are OK’ing this.”

He said the lower-quality tests tend to deliver more false positives than false negatives, which means people with COVID-19 wouldn’t be getting missed. Rather the tests can help quickly ferret out people with possible COVID-19, who can then be sent for clinical diagnosis using the more accurate molecular test to confirm it.

He likened it to cancer-screening methods such as mammograms, which can spot possible reasons for concern. Patients are then sent for further tests to confirm or rule out cancer.

READ MORE: Canada’s active COVID-19 cases top 10,000 as daily new cases triple over the past month

The only test now approved in Canada to diagnose an active infection of the virus that causes COVID-19 needs to be completed in a lab, to look for the virus’s genetic material. It takes hours to do, plus travel time for samples collected to be shipped to a lab, and more time for the results to be relayed back to public health authorities.

Health Canada has received applications for 14 different tests that can be done quickly, right at the place where the sample is taken, using faster technology that can produce results in just minutes.

Carleton University epidemiologist Patrick Saunders-Hastings said rapid tests can be a “game changer” because even if they are a step down in performance, we have reached the point where the gold-standard test can’t keep up and even a lower-quality test is better than nothing.

“The value judgment comes down to whether that reduction in performance offsets the capacity we have to test more people and reduce the barriers to testing for a lot of people,” he said.

Health Canada spokesman Eric Morrissette said Wednesday the department has made it an absolute priority to review the applications for alternative COVID-19 tests.

Canada is doing more tests than it has before. The Public Health Agency of Canada reports each day the average number of tests completed each a day, over the previous seven-day period. Between Aug. 25 and Sept. 21, that number was around 47,000. On Tuesday and Wednesday it jumped to more than 70,000.

Toronto Liberal MP Julie Dzerowicz said in the House of Commons Wednesday that the government knows people want rapid tests and is doing everything it can to get them underway.

“We have heard loud and clear, not only from the opposition, but from Canadians, that everybody is looking for rapid tests to be approved,” she said.

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Rio Tinto Alcan’s aluminum smelter at Kitimat competes against producers in the Middle East and Russia that have no carbon tax. (Rio Tinto)
B.C. carbon tax highest in Canada, export industries unprotected

B.C. NDP, B.C. Liberals say they’re looking at exemptions

Keep a lookout for monsters around Kitimat during the week leading up to Halloween. (Black Press file photo)
Lions and tigers and…monsters? Oh my!

Find monsters hiding around town during the week leading up to Halloween to be entered for a prize

Liz Thorne is president of the Snow Valley Ski Club, and has been involved with the club and cross country skiing for over 30 years. (Clare Rayment)
In Our Valley: Liz Thorne

Thorne has been involved with the Snow Valley Ski Club for over 30 years

The car was trapped, with its driver inside, in a ditch off Hirsch Creek Main near Onion Lake overnight Monday (Oct. 19). Oct. 20, 2020. Kitimat RCMP photo.
Man found after spending overnight stuck in car in a ditch near Onion Lake

Kitimat RCMP said the man was stuck there overnight for about 10 hours

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry presents modelling of COVID-19 spread in B.C., March 25, 2020. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. sets another COVID-19 record with 203 new cases

up to 1,766 active cases in B.C., two more deaths

RCMP. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
British Columbia man dies during ski trip near glacier west of Calgary

Kananaskis Public Safety and Alpine Helicopters responded around 2:30 p.m.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrives on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday, Oct. 19, 2020, following a week-long break for the House of Commons. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
One crisis after another for Trudeau since last federal election one year ago

It has been a year of unprecedented calamity and crisis

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Rio Tinto Alcan’s aluminum smelter at Kitimat competes against producers in the Middle East and Russia that have no carbon tax. (Rio Tinto)
B.C. carbon tax highest in Canada, export industries unprotected

B.C. NDP, B.C. Liberals say they’re looking at exemptions

(Pixabay)
Vancouver teacher suspended after swearing, touching students and complimenting underwear

McCabe touched students, including rubbing their backs and necks, touching their hair and hugging them

A glimpse of some of the 480 (approx) cars written off as a result of the acid spills along the Trail highway in 2018. Photo: Trail Times
2 years after huge highway acid spill, Kootenay Ford dealer’s frustration grows with ICBC

Trail AM Ford owner Dan Ashman says he just wants fair compensation from ICBC

Mail-in ballot from Elections BC (Katya Slepian/Black Press Media)
At least 26% of eligible voters have already cast their ballot, Elections BC says

Voters can cast a ballot until 8 p.m PST on Election Day

Most Read