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

Kuterra’s smolts will come from Cermaq hatcheries. (Whole Oceans image)
Cermaq to supply salmon smolts to land-based farm Kuterra

Emergent Holdings, which operates Kuterra, and Cermaq signed a four-year agreement

Candice Woloshyn prepares her flower beds for the next season at her ‘Dirty Girl Flowers’ farm in Merville. Despite the pandemic, Woloshyn was able to sustain her homegrown business as community members opted for regular deliveries of fresh cut flowers. Photo by Binny Paul/ Campbell River Mirror.
Vancouver Island flower farmers were blooming as the pandemic wilted everything else

Floriculturists saw increased subscriptions as fresh flowers became a ‘sight for sore eyes’ during isolation

Dispatcher at Campbell River fire dispatch centre during wind storms on Dec. 20, 2018. Photo courtesy Campbell River Fire Department
North Island 9-1-1 celebrates 25 years of serving the community

From mountainous areas to forested landscapes and pristine oceanside communities, North Island… Continue reading

Campbell River's new hospital, July 2018
Nurse diverts opiates and falsifies records at Campbell River Hospital

Nurse facing disciplinary action for moving opiates out of the hospital

The recently acquired Thulin family car, photographed in front of the Willows Hotel in 1912. MCR7453. Courtesy Museum at Campbell River
No license to drive

A Look Back into the History of the Campbell River Area

FILE – Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry provides the latest update on the COVID-19 pandemic in the province during a press conference in the press theatre at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Thursday, October 22, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. shatters COVID-19 records with 817 weekend cases; masks now expected indoors

Three people have died over the past three reporting periods

The voting station mimicked a real voting station in Nicole Choi’s classroom at Chilliwack middle school on Oct. 22, 2020, where students had to show their ID (student cards), be checked off a list, and mark a secret ballot behind a screen. (Jessica Peters/ Chilliwack Progress)
B.C. students choose NDP majority in mock election

More than 90,000 youth took part in school-based election process

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Crew transport bus at the Trans Mountain pipeline project work site in Burnaby, March 2020. (Trans Mountain)
Check your workplace COVID-19 safety plans, Dr. Henry urges

Masks in public spaces, distance in lunchrooms for winter

B.C.’s Court of Appeal is in Vancouver. (File photo: Tom Zytaruk)
Judgment reserved in Surrey Six slayings appeals

Six men were killed in suite 1505 of the Balmoral Tower in Whalley on Oct. 19, 2007

Kelowna City Hall has been vandalized overnight. (Michael Rodriguez - Capital News)
Kelowna City Hall hit by anti-pandemic vandalism

Graffiti condemning the virus appears overnight on City Hall

FILE – A woman smokes a marijuana joint at a “Wake and Bake” legalized marijuana event in Toronto on October 17, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov
Home nurse visits could play big role in reducing cannabis use, smoking in young mothers

The program, dubbed the BC Healthy Connections Project, involves public health nursing home visits

Dr. Richard Stanwick, Island Health chief medical health officer, immunizes Victoria Schmid, Island Health���s vice-president of pandemic planning. (Submitted photo)
Can’t wait for a COVID vaccine? Get the flu vaccine in the meantime, says Dr. Enns

“We’re in a pandemic, and we can’t afford to have dual viral infections.”

Most Read