In an Ontario factory, scientists are assembling a Canadian-made and approved rapid test for COVID-19 that requires no refrigeration and provides results in an hour.
Called Triplelock Test Strips, the rapid test made by Precision Biomonitoring received Health Canada approval this week for use across the country.
In Thunder Bay, Ont., a health and safety company has become among the first to use it, testing workers and employees in Ontario’s northern communities.
Donna Nordstrom, CEO of NorthStream Safety & Rehab, told CTV News that they’ve seen a “huge interest” in rapid testing, particularly from employers who run large operations like mines and lumber camps.
“Anywhere where they have to get their employees to work, and it’s unavoidable to be in close proximity to another while you’re working, this has been kind of a game changer for businesses,” she said.
Her company does drug-and-alcohol testing, as well as occupational testing services and training for employees in various fields.
“When we saw that there was an issue for businesses trying to get their people into work safely, we thought this was an opportunity to help them to be able to do that,” she said. “A rapid test will allow them to have a worker tested and get the results within a couple hours.”
She said they can do nine tests at a time, and that once the swabs used to take the test are in the machine that processes them, it only takes 65 minutes from there to get a result.
The turnaround is a vast improvement over provincial tests, which can take up to a week to get results, particularly in more remote areas of the province.
“Our test is conceived for situations where you need to have the results now,” Mario Thomas, CEO of Precision Biomonitoring, told CTV News. “And this is why it is transportable. You can run this in a pop-up lab.”
It comes at a cost -- over $100 per test, plus labour for a technician to process it. But companies are willing to pay if it means avoiding a shutdown of their entire business due to an outbreak.
“If these companies can’t stay open, employees can’t keep working, says Dr. David Savage, an emergency physician in Thunder Bay who is also a medical consultant at NorthStream. “It can be devastating for families throughout the northwest who are already suffering on a number of levels from food shortages and that sort of thing.”
The tests are manufactured in a solid form as opposed to the liquid form of most other tests, which need to be kept refrigerated in order to not degrade. This means the new tests can be used in remote communities, because they can be transported without refrigeration.
“Our test is stable at room temperature, can be transported, and it will maintain its performance,” Thomas said.
Precision Biomonitoring says the results from their tests are 100-per-cent accurate, based on lab tests.
"Our PCR test is the same gold standard as what the province is using," Nordstrom said. "And that's why we chose it."
But some other rapid tests have run into problems identifying asymptomatic patients, so doctors are watching to see its performance.
“There’s always a little bit of a problem when you start moving these tests in a real world setting where sampling may not be as perfect, you may have specimen and transport issues as compared to nicely picked laboratory controls,” Dr. Zain Chagla, an infectious disease specialist with McMaster University, told CTV News.
He said that the rapidness of the test might incentivize some workers to get tested who would be hesitant about reporting a sniffle -- and potentially losing days of work while isolating before an appointment to get a provincial test.
“I think people will be like, okay, I can take a couple of hours off here to get a result,” Chagla said.
If this test works as well as manufacturers promise, it could cut down on testing backlogs and enable companies to keep employees safe while still working.