NEWSTALK 1010 gets answers on the province's rapid testing rollout

Rapid Tests

It’s something experts have been calling on for months — deploying more rapid tests right across our province.

In a NEWSTALK 1010 exclusive, we can give you a full progress report on how the rollout of rapid tests has gone, and what we can expect in the months ahead.

 WHERE ARE WE AT RIGHT NOW?

According to the Ministry of Health, the rapid PCR tests have been deployed to regions of high transmission, and rural and remote areas. Rapid antigen tests are also being used to screen staff in long-term care homes and select workplaces.

The only real difference in the two tests is how the samples are processed — otherwise they are both collected through a nasal swab.

So far Ontario has received 3.5 million Panbio rapid antigen tests. So far tests have been deployed to Ontario Power Generation, Air Canada, and Magna, with plans to expand further.

The Ministry tells NEWSTALK 1010 there will also be an eight-week pilot program for employers in sectors like health care, essential frontline settings, and congregate settings, where these Panbio tests will be used.

“This pilot program is an important opportunity to learn about the value of antigen screening for asymptomatic workers in a range of workplace settings and will inform future decisions about safely and fully re-opening the economy,” the Ministry states.

The province is providing up to 300,000 COVID-19 rapid tests per week to key sectors like manufacturing, warehousing, supply chain and food processing.

“This volume of rapid tests would support antigen screening for up to 150,000 workers per week over the next 4-5 months in Ontario's most critical workplaces,” the Ministry says.

Another 12 million Panbio tests are expected to be sent to the province by the federal government over the next several months.

WHAT CAN WE BE DOING MORE OF?

Infectious disease expert Dr. Isaac Bogoch says it’s time to get creative and utilize rapid testing to the fullest extent possible.

He says Ontario and other areas of the country are falling behind on the rapid testing front.

"We certainly can pick up the pace. I think it is a problem, we should be using it significantly more."

He says it’s hard to know specifically why these tests aren’t being used more. They aren’t perfect, and certainly can’t be used as a diagnostic test, but Bogoch says they’re critical for screening and containing the virus.

“When you mobilize these tests and use them as part of screening programs, especially in places that are at high-risk for having an outbreak, you will probably start to see some very early benefits of these tests,” Bogoch says. “There’s a lot of places where you could mobilize these tests. Some people say ‘well the tests might not be as accurate’ and they’d be correct. But you’ve got to remember what they’re comparing it to. The whole goal of these tests is to identify people that are contagious, people that are positive for the virus that are at risk of spreading the virus to others.”

If you test positive for the virus with a rapid test, you would be referred to an assessment centre for a laboratory test.

Bogoch says deploying rapid tests to areas of high-transmission can also help ensure people have the tools they need to isolate properly if they screen positive, and later test positive for COVID-19.

CAN THE TESTING EXPAND?

 Vice President of Pharmacies for Shoppers Drug Mart, Ashesh Desai, says the pharmacy chain is ready to help out however they can.

“Definitely, we’ve been looking at the way rapid tests have been deployed around the world,” Desai says. “The big difference between the rapid test and the PCR test is the time to actually get a result. The PCR tests obviously have to go to a lab.”

Desai says Shoppers is in the middle of a pilot project at select locations across the country.

“We’re making it voluntary for store colleagues to actually get screened, should they choose to, at a frequency of twice a week,” Desai says. “They would get their results in 15 minutes and if they screened positive, we would recommend that they go to an assessment centre to get a confirmatory diagnosis from a PCR standpoint.”

Part of this pilot project is seeing how feasible it would be for Shoppers to administer rapid tests. They will send all of the data to federal and provincial government in terms of how long the screening would take and if pharmacies would be able to handle that.​