48,000 Canadians have requested blood sample for coronavirus investigation

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In the first study of its kind, Statistics Canada is sending test kits to tens of thousands of people to study the prevalence of the coronavirus in the country.
The investigation involves asking 48,000 Canadians to prick their fingers and return a blood sample. This sample will be sent to the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg where it will be tested for the presence of antibodies against the coronavirus. In order to obtain a good result, the agency expects a minimum response rate of 45%.

Statistics Canada began shipping the kits – which include gloves, alcohol swabs, a finger prick needle and blood sample paper – in November. The investigation will continue until March.

Leanne Murray, one of the 3,500 residents of Prince Edward Island targeted by the survey, was surprised to receive the kit in the mail. She wasn’t sure it was legitimate.

Leanne Murray, from Prince Edward Island, opens the coronavirus antibody test kit she received from Statistics Canada. (Brian Higgins / CBC)

“It would have been nice to hear something about that on the news, that they were even mailed to random people,” Murray said.

(The study received some media coverage in November, but received little attention in the months that followed.)

Murray said she called Statistics Canada to confirm they were indeed conducting the study, but did not receive an immediate response.

Protected personal results

Peter Jiao of Statistics Canada confirmed to CBC News that the study was legitimate.

Since this is an official Statistics Canada study, Jiao said, the confidentiality of the results will be protected by the Federal Statistics Act. In addition to the usual protocols used by the agency, Jiao said Health Canada had been consulted for ethical considerations related to the collection of this type of health information.

[We] let’s hope Canadians see the value of taking the time.– Peter Jiao from Statistics Canada

Packages returned to Statistics Canada do not contain any personally identifying information. This means that if opened by someone who is not authorized, the blood samples cannot be linked to the sender, he said.

Statistics Canada had considered using medical professionals to collect the samples, but to get the volume of samples it needed, U-pick was the best option.

“We understand that there is a certain level of discomfort associated with this test, but let’s hope Canadians see the value in taking the time,” Jiao said.

Respondents get results

The test will be able to determine whether a person has contracted COVID-19 and whether or not they have developed symptoms. It will also determine whether the antibodies result from receiving a vaccine.

Based on the tests, Statistics Canada will produce a report showing the prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 nationally and by province and territory.

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Respondents will also receive a letter with their antibody status.

Public feedback on the survey has been generally positive, Jiao said, with people particularly interested in getting their personal results back.

Murray said she would be happy to take the test, once she got a little more information from Statistics Canada.

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