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

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
65 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

Overall, B.C. is seeing a decrease in COVID-19 cases

Photo of handguns and illicit drugs Trail RCMP reported to have seized from a Trail man on Sunday. Photo: Trail RCMP
Drugs and guns seized from Trail man

A call came into the detachment that a man was asleep behind the wheel

RCMP are searching for Philip Toner, who is a 'person of interest' in the investigation of a suspicious death in Kootenay National Park last week. Photo courtesy BC RCMP.
Man sought in suspicious Kootenay death found in Lake Country

Philip Toner is a person of interest in the death of Brenda Ware

Rain clouds were absent for most of April in the West Kootenay. Photo: Betsy Kline
April precipitation only one-third of normal in West Kootenay

Third month in a row with below average rain fall

The Trail RCMP is sharing a warning that originated with the Nova Scotia RCMP regarding an online sexual exploitation scam targeting youth. Photo: Mohammad Metri on Unsplash
Trail RCMP warn of digital sexploitation scheme targeting youth

Police want to get the message out to victims that you are not alone.

A bullet hole is seen in the windshield of an RCMP vehicle approximately 4 km from Vancouver International Airport after a one person was killed during a shooting outside the international departures terminal at the airport, in Richmond, B.C., Sunday, May 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Homicide team IDs man in fatal YVR shooting as police grapple with spate of gang violence

Man, 20, charged in separate fatal shooting Burnaby over the weekend

Keith MacIntyre - BC Libertarian
Penticton’s Keith MacIntyre new leader of the B.C. Libertarian Party

The Penticton businessman was voted in by members of the party on May 8

Vernon North Okanagan RCMP reported to 287 mental health calls between Jan. 1, 2021, and May 1. (Black Press files)
‘It’s not the police’s responsibility to deal with mental health calls’: Vernon RCMP

RCMP remind public to take care of mental health and well-being, while better solutions are sought

Thompson Rivers University campus is in Kamloops, B.C. (KTW file photo)
Thompson Rivers the 1st B.C. university to supply free menstrual products

The university will offer the products this September

Fraser Health is using ‘targeted’ vaccination clinics in high-risk areas of the Lower Mainland. (Fraser Health photo)
B.C.’s COVID-19 decrease continues, 515 new cases Tuesday

426 seriously ill people in hospital, up from 415 Monday

The site of Sunfest, Laketown Ranch, will be open for camping this summer. (Citizen file)
Sunfest country music bash won’t be shining on B.C. in 2021

Annual Vancouver Island Festival cancelled due to COVID-19, along with Laketown Shakedown

Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation elected chief councillor Moses Martin, who was also Chantel Moore’s grandfather, speaks to media in Port Alberni on Aug. 16, 2020, during a visit from NDP leader Jagmeet Singh following the police shooting of Chantel Moore. (Elena Rardon photo)
Mother of 2 shot by police in critical condition, says B.C. First Nation chief

Community ‘devastated’ by third member of 1,150-person Vancouver Island nation shot in less than a year

B.C. Agriculture Minister Lana Popham promotes the government’s BuyBC food program in 2019. (B.C. government)
Money running out for fresh fruit, vegetables, milk in B.C. schools

‘Looking at ways to support this type of program,’ minister says

(Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Experts now predict 33.6% rise in B.C. home sales for 2021

BCREA economists also predict home prices to increase by 14.3%

Most Read