Testing is the best way to contain a second wave of COVID-19: study

With COVID-19 cases on the rise in Quebec, a recent study published in the Canadian Medical Journal says the best way to contain a second wave is through testing.

Specifically, the researchers looked at testing five groups: contacts of people who have COVID-19 who are considered the highest risk, health-care workers in acute and long term care centres, residents of those centres, essential workers with contact to the public and, finally, schoolchildren and staff.

While it remains unclear how high the risk is among children, they are considered an important group to test – in part because schools just reopened, and in part because asymptomatic people are important contributors to the spread of COVID-19.

“We think, from modelling studies, it’s a very important contributor to the pandemic,” said epidemiologist Dr. Richard Menzies from McGill University, who is part of the group who published the study. 

“And we now that young people and children are more likely to be asymptomatic” than adults, he continued. "So this tells you it’s possible that children can be infected at school and it’s a little difficult to control kids with each other – so they could be asymptomatic and then bring it home to parents and grandparent, and so on.”

As far as testing children is concerned, Menzies said there are more than 20 studies that show saliva testing is almost as good as swab testing. Since it’s less invasive, it’s easier to do – and you can do it repeatedly with children. He also said it’s cheaper and doesn’t risk exposing health-care workers to the disease.

Menzies said not all students in schools need to be tested – sample testing every two weeks to a month to paint a picture of the situation in schools would suffice.

Menzies added that the results have been shared with Health Canada and Quebec’s ministry of health.

“So we’ve had some discussions with them,” he said. “I know things like saliva testing in Quebec – they’ve said now said it’s an approved method of sampling, so that’s obviously a good thing.”

Menzies said he’s not sure what the government is planning to do with the group’s suggestions.

The estimated cost of the testing is $1.3 billion for the country. Though it may appear costly, Menzies said it would cost Canadians much more not to do it – both in terms of health-care as well as the country's economy. 

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