Quebec expanding rapid COVID tests but experts warn of limited use

Quebec will slightly expand its use of rapid COVID-19 tests, but experts advising the government warn that their use will be limited.

During a briefing on Monday, a panel of experts said they believe the rapid tests consume too many resources for not enough public health gain to be widely deployed.

Isabelle Goupil-Sormany, a consulting physician for the province's Health Ministry, said she is “pretty confident” about the IDNow test that the province has used in pilot projects but said caution is required when looking at its efficacy.

“We still need to find the exact implication and clinical setting that will give us the maximum benefit and lowest disadvantage,” she said. “We want to be careful, but we also have to have a huge capacity for lab tests. They're better and more accurate so we want to invest in that technology, especially now that we have less invasive samples.”

Rapid antigen tests are one of four methods of detecting COVID-19. Viral culture tests have not been widely deployed due to the complexity of their use, while serological tests detect antibodies in an individual while they're already recovering from the disease.

Quebec has so far relied mostly on nucleic acid tests, with a capacity to analyze 40,000 tests per day.

“It's about the relevancy of the test, but it's about how many tests you'd have to do to catch a case,” said Goupil-Sormany. “For the same amount of resources, you catch much fewer cases than what you'd get in a high-prevalence setting. When you have a high prevalence of cases, you want to offer the best test available, which is the lab test.”

She added that the rapid tests have been deployed in nursing homes, schools that have had COVID-19 outbreaks and in homeless shelters and will soon be implemented in workplaces, such as in the manufacturing sector, which have remained open during the province's lockdown.  

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