Coronavirus: how rapid test kits could lead to more targeted screenings


Amid criticism over the lack of widespread testing for COVID-19, Ottawa and the provinces have turned to rapid test kits to help reduce test delays, which could change the way people are selected for testing. quarantine when the locks are released.

Infection control epidemiologist Colin Furness said rapid test kits will be important to keep people safe when they return to work and reopen borders.

“Imagine quarantining people for as long as it takes for someone to collect their baggage at an airport, whether or not it is,” he said.

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He said portable test kits are particularly useful in rural or remote communities, where quick access to the hospital or test assessment centers may not be possible.

“The general idea of ​​trying to increase capacity through rapid testing is a great thing,” he said.

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Spartan Bioscience Inc., a small Ottawa-based company, is a solution that the governments of Ontario and Alberta have used to increase testing capacity.

The company’s device, the Spartan Cube, is a portable DNA analyzer that can deliver COVID-19 test results in approximately 30 minutes.

The small gray box – the size of a coffee can – uses a throat pad created by the company, which is then placed in a single-use cartridge and inserted into the device.

Most COVID-19 tests are done using a long nasopharyngeal swab that is inserted into the nose. The swabs are then sent to a hospital or public health laboratory, where they are processed in a large machine designed for polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing.

Lack of swabs, chemical testing and limited laboratory space has led to delays in some provinces and forced public health officials to limit the number of people tested. This can be a major problem when health investigators try to determine where the virus is in order to isolate these cases.

Experts have warned that Canada may miss thousands of COVID-19 cases due to these limitations.

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“I think everyone in the world has been taken a bit flat,” said Paul Lem, founder and CEO of Spartan.

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“This is where we have a big advantage as a Canadian company. We actually manufacture the tests and cartridges in Ottawa, so we are not subject to this global shortage. “

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Several countries, such as South Korea and Germany, have also banned the export of essential medical equipment and supplies. President Donald Trump last week banned the export of N95 masks made by 3M Co. to Canada.

In the United States, Detroit has started using new rapid test kits for first responders, bus drivers and healthcare workers to detect the new coronavirus.

The test, created by the Illinois-based pharmaceutical company Abbott Laboratories, can produce results in about 15 minutes or less. The company hopes to speed up production to the point that it can deliver 50,000 kits per day, per version.

Although there have been concerns about rapid tests in the UK and Spain, the Spartan cube uses an identical test which has been published by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has a rate of 100% accuracy according to Lem.

The Spartan test has not yet been approved by Health Canada, but Lem said they are in talks “almost every day” and hope to get the final green light “very soon”. He hopes that the test kits can be dispatched in the coming weeks.

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Ontario has ordered more than 900,000 test kits, while Alberta Health Services has signed a $ 9.5 million contract for 250 hand-held devices, as well as 100,000 test kits.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Monday that Canada is working to increase testing, but did not specify when these rapid test kits could be used by public health agencies.

“We recognize that large-scale testing is key to smoothing the curve and dealing with the long-term prognosis of this pandemic,” said Trudeau during his daily briefing. “We will continue to deliver more and more test kits from around the world, from Canadian companies that are developing them.

“We know we need more test kits and that’s what we’re working on. “

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Ontario has been criticized for its slow testing of COVID-19. It continues to have the fewest tests per capita in Canada – 510 tests per 100,000 population. Alberta has performed nearly 1,500 tests per 100,000 while British Columbia. performed 950 tests per 100,000.

Alison McGeer, director of the Infectious Disease Epidemiology Research Unit at the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute, said there was no single solution to a problem during a pandemic and that the Public Health laboratory system Ontario works 24 hours a day when it comes to testing.

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In two weeks, Ontario has managed to clear a backlog of tests from over 10,000 to just over 300.

“Everyone is aiming to do more testing than we currently do [are]Said McGreer. “You have to work with the possibilities of a pandemic. There is nothing you can do. ”

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Theresa Tam, Canada’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, said on Monday that global supply chains can be “very difficult” during a pandemic, with countries fighting for the same equipment, and they are looking for more “made to measure” solutions. Canada ”- like the Spartan test.

According to her, with limited resources, the courts focus their tests on vulnerable communities, health workers and the detection of small clusters.

“We want the supplies to be used in the most efficient way possible,” she said. “This means that tests should be done in the situations where you are most likely to find the infection and in the situations most at risk. “

Last week, provincial health experts in Ontario said they expected COVID-19 to kill 3,000 to 15,000 people in the province during the coronavirus pandemic, which could last up to at two years old.

As of Monday morning, Canada had tested more than 334,000 people with more than 15,800 cases and 290 deaths.

Experts who spoke to Global News last week said that Canada needs to invest more in testing and contact tracing, which involves tracing the steps of a COVID-19 patient and finding anyone who has may have been in contact with them.

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“As this community continues to spread, we must do aggressive testing and not limit it only to sick patients or healthcare professionals,” said Peter Phillips, clinical professor of infectious diseases at the university. from British Columbia.

“If we don’t know where it is, we can’t contain it. “

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