This image provided by Abbott Laboratories in August 2020 shows the company’s BinaxNOW rapid COVID-19 nasal swab test. More than 3.8 million rapid tests are now in the hands of provincial health authorities but many jurisdictions are still evaluating how they might help battle the COVID-19 pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Abbott Laboratories via AP

This image provided by Abbott Laboratories in August 2020 shows the company’s BinaxNOW rapid COVID-19 nasal swab test. More than 3.8 million rapid tests are now in the hands of provincial health authorities but many jurisdictions are still evaluating how they might help battle the COVID-19 pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Abbott Laboratories via AP

Rapid tests slow to be used as health officials unsure of reliability, best use

Canada has announced plans to buy nearly 38 million rapid tests from five different manufacturers

More than 3.8 million rapid tests for COVID-19 are now in the hands of provincial health authorities but many jurisdictions are still evaluating how the devices might help battle the pandemic.

Health Canada has approved more than three dozen different tests for COVID-19, but only six of them are “point-of-care” versions more commonly referred to as rapid tests.

The “gold-standard” COVID-19 tests need to be processed in a lab, and usually take at least a day to provide results. Rapid tests can be processed in the same place a patient is tested, sometimes in as few as 15 minutes, but they are generally considered less reliable than lab results.

There are two different kinds of rapid tests. One, like the traditional lab-based version, looks for the genetic material of the novel coronavirus. The other looks for the specific markers the virus leaves on the outside of a cell, known as antigens.

Since Sept. 29, Canada has announced plans to buy nearly 38 million rapid tests from five different manufacturers, and began sending the first shipments to provinces in the late last month.

As of this week, more than 3.8 million have been delivered.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford called rapid tests “an absolute game changer” the day the federal government announced its deal with Abbott Diagnostics to buy 7.9 million of its ID Now genetic tests.

They aren’t changing much yet.

Most jurisdictions are still not whether they can fully trust the results, or figure out the best way to use them. In almost all cases, the rapid-test results are still being verified by also testing a patient with the lab-based version.

Ontario Health said Friday the province has started to “roll out” some rapid tests focused on detecting outbreaks and in rural settings where lab tests are harder to access.

Ontario Health will study the results of the initial rollout “to inform possible expansion of the use of this technology,” the department’s spokespeople said in a written statement.

Dr. Vera Etches, the medical officer of health in Ottawa, says her city’s testing team is looking at some pilot projects to use rapid tests, such as at a long-term care home with a suspected outbreak. But she said there are still concerns rapid tests might not be as reliable as the lab tests.

“We’re still needing to study how much would COVID be missed by tests that are falsely negative,” she said.

British Columbia health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Thursday that her province is still validating the ID Now tests at the BC Centre for Disease Control.

She said B.C. has also received some antigen tests but those aren’t yet being used.

“The challenges we have are that they’re not as sensitive, so they don’t pick certain things,” she said.

“But we do know that they can play an important role in places like where we have a cluster of people with an illness and we need to rapidly determine if it is COVID or not. If several people are tested and they’re all negative, that’s reassuring. If one of them is positive, that tells you that this is probably an outbreak that you’re dealing with.”

ALSO READ: Interpreters for B.C.’s COVID updates would boost awareness of pandemic protocols, advocate says

Manitoba has sent several ID Now test kits to remote communities where lab tests can take longer, and to a Winnipeg hospital in the midst of a COVID-19 outbreak. But health workers are still learning how to use them. The swabbing must still be done by trained professionals.

A spokeswoman for Manitoba Health said this week the tests will likely start being used there by the end of the month.

As with Ontario and B.C., Manitoba Health is viewing the rapid tests as experimental, verifying most rapid tests with the lab-based model and then studying the results overall to see how they’re working.

Manitoba Health plans to use the antigen tests it received only as a screening tool, but is still validating the accuracy of antigen tests overall.

A spokeswoman for the Quebec health ministry said Friday Quebec has received 30,000 ID Now tests, and 547,000 antigen tests, known as Panbio, made by Abbott Laboratories.

Marjorie Larouche said in a written statement that the rapid tests are “less sensitive” than lab-based tests.

“Deployment must therefore be carried out in a very supervised and co-ordinated manner,” she said.

An expert committee was set up in Quebec to decide how the tests should be used and is evaluating them in several pilot projects in hospitals in the Montreal and Quebec City areas.

Quebec is looking at using the tests in remote areas, for health workers, screening clinics, long-term care facilities and schools.

“The date for the distribution of tests has not yet been determined,” she said, adding it is expected before the end the year.

— With files from Brenna Owen in Vancouver.

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

Nanaimo-North Cowichan MLA Doug Routley was passed up for a cabinet position by Premier John Horgan. (Photo submitted)
Routley left off the list of NDP cabinet ministers again

Premier Horgan opts for some newcomers in key positions over experienced MLA

Environment Canada has issued a special weather statement forecasting windy weather Sunday and Monday. (News Bulletin file photo)
More windy weather on the way for Vancouver Island

Environment Canada issues special weather statement for Victoria, east coast of Island, north Island

Ladysmith Chamber of Commerce has worked to support businesses throughout the pandemic. (File photo)
Ladysmith Chamber reflects on a challenging 2020

For small businesses looking to adapt to the challenges of COVID-19 one… Continue reading

49th parallel was an early adopter of Plexiglas shields, and required staff to wear face masks. (49th Parallel photo)
49th Parallel continues to grow in spite of pandemic

The biggest challenge of the pandemic has been keeping shelves stocked at 49th Parallel stores

Freighter anchored off Kin Beach in Chemainus. (Photo by Don Bodger)
MacGregor to host expert panel for virtual town hall on freighter anchorages issue

Residents can participate through MP’s website or Facebook page Dec. 3

(Dave Landine/Facebook)
VIDEO: Dashcam captures head-on crash between snowplow and truck on northern B.C. highway

Driver posted to social media that he walked away largely unscathed

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Help make children’s wishes come true

Black Press Media, BraveFace host mask fundraiser for Make-A-Wish Foundation

A pedestrian makes their way through the snow in downtown Ottawa on Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Wild winter, drastic swings in store for Canada this year: Weather Network

In British Columbia and the Prairies, forecasters are calling for above-average snowfall levels

NDP Leader John Horgan, left, speaks as local candidate Ravi Kahlon listens during a campaign stop at Kahlon’s home in North Delta, B.C., on April 18, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
The Nanaimo Rona location. (News Bulletin photo)
Rona home improvement store in Nanaimo advises that worker has COVID-19

Store re-opened Sunday after closing for cleaning Saturday

A B.C. Ambulance Service paramedic wearing a face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 moves a stretcher outside an ambulance at Royal Columbia Hospital, in New Westminster, B.C., on Sunday, November 29, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Top doctor urges Canadians to limit gatherings as ‘deeply concerning’ outbreaks continue

Canada’s active cases currently stand at 63,835, compared to 53,907 a week prior

A Canadian Pacific freight train travels around Morant’s Curve near Lake Louise, Alta., on Monday, Dec. 1, 2014. A study looking at 646 wildlife deaths along the railway tracks in Banff and Yoho national parks in Alberta and British Columbia has found that train speed is one of the biggest factors. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Study finds train speed a top factor in wildlife deaths in Banff, Yoho national parks

Research concludes effective mitigation could address train speed and ability of wildlife to see trains

A airport worker is pictured at Vancouver International Airport in Richmond, B.C. Wednesday, March 18, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Canada extends COVID restrictions for non-U.S. travellers until Jan. 21 amid second wave

This ban is separate from the one restricting non-essential U.S. travel

Menno Place. (Google Street View image.)
B.C. care home looks to hire residents’ family members amid COVID-19-related staff shortage

Family would get paid as temporary workers, while having chance to see loved ones while wearing PPE

Most Read