Federal government promises help for growing demand for COVID-19 testing, but won’t accept rapid test technology yet

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OTTAWA – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau vows to do more to help provinces meet the growing demand for COVID-19 tests, but there is no indication yet when the government will approve tests that can give results in minutes. Health Minister Patty Hajdu said her ministry was not convinced that the test systems submitted for approval gave sufficiently accurate results.

In Wednesday’s Throne Speech, the government said it “is looking for all the technologies and all the options for faster testing for Canadians.” Once approved, the government promises to deploy them quickly, and in the meantime creates a “test response and support team” to help cope with the insatiable growth in demand.

“Canadians shouldn’t be standing in line for hours to take a test,” Governor General Julie Payette said in Wednesday’s speech.

And yet they are.

In Kitchener, Ont. On Wednesday, people started lining up at a drive-thru test site at 2:30 a.m. five hours before it opened. At 7:30 a.m. the Grand River Hospital site was at full capacity and at 9:15 a.m. it was completely closed because impatient people were getting aggressive with staff.

In Ottawa, people reported on social media that they arrived at a test site before 5 a.m. to find dozens of people online in front of them. All of the city’s major test sites have been reaching capacity by mid-morning for more than a week.

“People lining up to be tested are a problem,” said Raywat Deonandan, epidemiologist at the University of Ottawa.

Deonandan said he understands why governments are reluctant to go through tests that don’t provide the highest quality results, but he said there are ways to use them without risking safety.

“They can be surveillance tools,” he said. “That’s what I call the failure of the imagination on the part of people who accept this. ”

He said substandard testing tended to produce more false positives than false negatives, meaning people with COVID-19 would not be missed. Rather, the tests can help quickly detect people with possible COVID-19, which can then be sent for clinical diagnosis using the more precise molecular test to confirm it.

He compared it to cancer screening methods such as mammograms, which can reveal possible reasons for concern. Patients are then sent for further testing to confirm or rule out cancer.

The only test now approved in Canada to diagnose active infection of the virus that causes COVID-19 is to be done in a lab, to look for the genetic material of the virus. It takes hours, plus the time it takes for the samples collected to travel to be shipped to a lab, and more time for the results to be sent to public health authorities.

Health Canada has received requests for 14 different tests that can be performed quickly, directly at the location of the sample, using faster technology that can produce results within minutes.

Carleton University epidemiologist Patrick Saunders-Hastings said rapid tests can be a game-changer because even though they reduce performance, we have reached the point where the benchmark test cannot keep up and even inferior quality. the test is better than nothing.

“The value judgment comes down to whether this reduction in performance compensates for the ability we have to test more people and reduce the barriers to testing for a lot of people,” he said.

Health Canada spokesperson Eric Morrissette said on Wednesday the ministry had made reviewing requests for alternative COVID-19 testing a top priority.

Canada is testing more than ever before. The Public Health Agency of Canada reports daily the average number of tests performed each day over the previous seven days. Between August 25 and September 21, that number was around 47,000. As of Tuesday and Wednesday, it rose to over 70,000.

Toronto Liberal MP Julie Dzerowicz told the House of Commons on Wednesday that the government knows people want rapid tests and is doing everything it can to get them started.

“We have heard loud and clear, not only from the opposition, but also from Canadians, that everyone wants rapid tests approved,” she said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on September 23, 2020.

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