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

Just Posted

Items seized over four days of targeted vehicle checks Nanaimo and Victoria by members of the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit of B.C. (CFSEU-BC photo)
Gang enforcement team seizes drugs and weapons in Nanaimo and Victoria

Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit of B.C. checked 33 vehicles over four days

(Citizen file)
Hooch the pooch saved from icy Cowichan River

Cowichan Search and Rescue swiftwater team called in to retrieve stranded dog from sandbar

North Cowichan Mayor Al Siebring said financial penalties for council members found to be engaging in bad behaviour is a good deterrent. (File photo)
North Cowichan council members face financial ding for bad behaviour

Penalties under new code of conduct mean partial loss of salary for mayor and councillors

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

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

HarbourCats players celebrate winning the North Division Championship Series in 2019. (Christian J. Stewart/File Photo)
Victoria HarbourCats locked out of team Facebook page

Management hires legal team to solve issue

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry arrives for briefing on the COVID-19 situation, B.C. legislature, Oct. 26, 2020 (B.C. government)
B.C. records 217 more COVID-19 cases, mask use urged

Infection spike continues, 21 senior facilities affected

North Cowichan/Duncan RCMP are looking for help from the public to identify the driver of a vehicle after a hit and run in Duncan on Oct. 22, 2020. (File photo)
North Cowichan/Duncan RCMP looking for driver after man hit in crosswalk

The hit and run is reported to have taken place on Thursday, Oct. 22

The boil water advisory came into effect Oct. 21, 2020.
Boil water advisory continues for Alert Bay

Coliform levels could indicate the presence of a pathogen

Nanaimo RCMP patch
Domestic violence on the rise in Port Alberni

COVID-19 still affecting domestic violence stats, says Alberni RCMP’s top cop

The entrance to the Port Hardy aquatic centre. (Tyson Whitney - North Island Gazette)
Port Hardy to ‘revitalize’ old aquatic centre for $8.5 million

‘If everything goes as planned, there will be no tax increase to cover our portion of the costs’

A raccoon paid a visit to a Toronto Tim Hortons on Oct. 22, 2020. (shecallsmedrew/Twitter)
Who are you calling a trash panda? Raccoon takes a shift at Toronto Tim Hortons

Tim Hortons said animal control was called as soon they saw the surprise visitor

The duffel bags were found to contain 84 pounds of cocaine, valued at approximately $1.2 million and 198 pounds of methamphetamine, valued at approximately $960,000. Photo courtesy U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
2 men accused of fleeing border agents near U.S.-B.C. border with $2M in drugs

Cocaine and methamphetamine seized by U.S. law enforcement in remote Idaho area near Canadian border

Pixabay photo
‘Horrific’ abuse of volunteers, staff by parents must stop: Chilliwack soccer club

Parents have become abusive after being told COVID-19 rules, email says

FILE – The Queen of Alberni ferry leaves the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal in Delta bound for Vancouver Island, Sunday, July 29, 2007. (CP PHOTO/Richard Lam) CANADA
Mechanical failure leaves nearly 200 passengers stranded on BC Ferries ship for hours

A tug arrived after dark to safely nudge the vessel into a berth so travellers could finally disembark

Most Read