Canadian officials have unveiled a new, non-invasive coronavirus test that avoids the need for intrusive nasal swabs, in a development they hope will make testing easier and more accessible for students when they return to school.
The new testing method, unveiled Thursday, is a significant departure from the standard – and often painful – nasopharyngeal swab which remains the most common method of detecting Covid-19.
Instead, kids in the western province of British Columbia will have the chance to “swirl, gargle and spit out” non-invasive saline – one of the first such tests in the world.
“Unlike the nasopharyngeal swab, this is a new saline gargle where you put a little normal saline water in your mouth, swirl it around a bit – and spit it out into a little tube. And it’s a simpler way to collect it for young people, ”Dr. Bonnie Henry, a leading physician in British Columbia, told reporters.
The test, which does not need to be administered by a healthcare professional, requires children to gargle the solution for 30 seconds, before spitting it out into a tube. The sample produces 5-10 ml of liquid to be tested.
Like a swab, the purpose of the test is to scan for tissue samples that may harbor the coronavirus. Saline solution also helps preserve viral structures by more closely mimicking their natural environment.
To prevent sample contamination, the province advises children not to eat, drink, chew gum, or brush their teeth in the hours before testing.
Henry says the new test will be available at Covid-19 collection and assessment centers across the province, but for now, it is only offered to school-aged children until the supply can meet demand. Authorities will continue to use the nasal swab method for young children or those who cannot follow the instructions for rustling, gargling and spitting.
The announcement comes as provinces across Canada grapple with long lines at testing centers. The new requirements require that children or parents with mild symptoms be tested, and many establishments were quickly overwhelmed, with some reporting they had reached capacity within hours of opening.