Hundreds of people wait in line for hours at a COVID assessment centre at Women’s College Hospital during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto on Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Hundreds of people wait in line for hours at a COVID assessment centre at Women’s College Hospital during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto on Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Feds promise help for surging COVID-19 test demand but won’t OK rapid-test tech yet

Health Canada has received applications for 14 different tests that can be done quickly

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is promising to do more to help provinces respond to soaring demands for COVID-19 testing but there is still no indication of when the government will approve the tests that can deliver results in mere minutes.

Health Minister Patty Hajdu has said her department isn’t satisfied that the testing systems submitted for approval yield accurate enough results.

In Wednesday’s throne speech, the government said it is “pursuing every technology and every option for faster tests for Canadians.” Once they are approved, the government promises to deploy them quickly, and is creating a “testing assistance response team” in the meantime to help with the insatiable growth in demand.

“Canadians should not be waiting in line for hours to get a test,” Gov. Gen. Julie Payette read from the speech Wednesday.

And yet they are.

In Kitchener, Ont., Wednesday, people began lining up at a drive-thru testing site at 2:30 a.m. five hours before it opened. By 7:30 a.m. the Grand River Hospital site was at capacity and by 9:15 it had closed entirely because impatient people were getting aggressive with staff.

In Ottawa, people reported on social media that they were arriving at one testing site before 5 a.m. to find dozens of people in line ahead of them. All the city’s main testing sites have reached capacity by mid-morning now for more than a week.

“People lining up to be tested is a problem,” said Raywat Deonandan, an epidemiologist at the University of Ottawa.

Deonandan said he understands why governments are reluctant to wave through tests that aren’t delivering the highest quality of results, but he said there are ways to use them without risking safety.

“They can be surveillance tools,” he said. “This is what I call the failure of imagination on the part of people that are OK’ing this.”

He said the lower-quality tests tend to deliver more false positives than false negatives, which means people with COVID-19 wouldn’t be getting missed. Rather the tests can help quickly ferret out people with possible COVID-19, who can then be sent for clinical diagnosis using the more accurate molecular test to confirm it.

He likened it to cancer-screening methods such as mammograms, which can spot possible reasons for concern. Patients are then sent for further tests to confirm or rule out cancer.

READ MORE: Canada’s active COVID-19 cases top 10,000 as daily new cases triple over the past month

The only test now approved in Canada to diagnose an active infection of the virus that causes COVID-19 needs to be completed in a lab, to look for the virus’s genetic material. It takes hours to do, plus travel time for samples collected to be shipped to a lab, and more time for the results to be relayed back to public health authorities.

Health Canada has received applications for 14 different tests that can be done quickly, right at the place where the sample is taken, using faster technology that can produce results in just minutes.

Carleton University epidemiologist Patrick Saunders-Hastings said rapid tests can be a “game changer” because even if they are a step down in performance, we have reached the point where the gold-standard test can’t keep up and even a lower-quality test is better than nothing.

“The value judgment comes down to whether that reduction in performance offsets the capacity we have to test more people and reduce the barriers to testing for a lot of people,” he said.

Health Canada spokesman Eric Morrissette said Wednesday the department has made it an absolute priority to review the applications for alternative COVID-19 tests.

Canada is doing more tests than it has before. The Public Health Agency of Canada reports each day the average number of tests completed each a day, over the previous seven-day period. Between Aug. 25 and Sept. 21, that number was around 47,000. On Tuesday and Wednesday it jumped to more than 70,000.

Toronto Liberal MP Julie Dzerowicz said in the House of Commons Wednesday that the government knows people want rapid tests and is doing everything it can to get them underway.

“We have heard loud and clear, not only from the opposition, but from Canadians, that everybody is looking for rapid tests to be approved,” she said.

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

Supporters gather during a rally against measures taken by government and health authorities to curb the spread of COVID-19 at the Whistle Stop cafe in Mirror Alta, on Saturday May 8, 2021. The Whistle Stop was shut down by AHS for not complying with COVID-19 rules. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Police hand out tickets to dozens leaving anti-lockdown protest in Alberta

Hundreds gathered outside the Whistle Stop Café in the hamlet of Mirror, Alta.

People line up outside an immunization clinic to get their Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine in Edmonton, Tuesday, April 20, 2021. Alberta leads the Prairie provinces in being the first to take COVID-19 vaccine bookings for pre-teens. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta leads Prairie provinces in accepting COVID vaccine bookings for pre-teens

The province begins accepting appointments for kids as young as 12 starting today

Asymptomatic testing will now be available for "priority groups" who are most likely to spread the COVID-19 virus to vulnerable or at-risk populations. File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS
A judge has found an Edmonton woman guilty of manslaughter in the death of her five-year-old daughter. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Edmonton mother found guilty of manslaughter in death of 5-year-old girl

The woman was charged and pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder and assault with weapons, including a belt and a spatula

Alberta has 1,910 active cases of COVID-19 as of Wednesday. Red Deer is reporting five active cases, with 108 recovered. (File photo)
Alberta identifies 2,042 new COVID-19 cases Saturday

Central zone has 2,917 active cases

Dr. Karina Pillay, former mayor of Slave Lake, Alta., is shown at her medical clinic in Calgary on Friday, April 16, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
10 years later: Former Slave Lake mayor remembers wildfire that burned through town

Alberta announced in 2011 that an unknown arsonist had recklessly or deliberately ignited the forest fire

The body of Brenda Ware, 35, was found along Highway 93 in Kootenay National Park on Thursday, May 6, 2021. (RCMP handout)
RCMP ask for tips after woman travelling from Alberta found dead in B.C. park

Brenda Ware was found along Highway 93 in the park, 54 kilometres north of the town of Radium

A caribou grazes on Baffin Island in a 2008 file photo. A last-ditch attempt to save some of Canada’s vanishing caribou herds is a step closer after a scientific review panel’s approval of a plan to permanently pen some animals and breed them to repopulate other herds. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Kike Calvo via AP Images
Parks Canada captive caribou breeding proposal gets OK from scientific review panel

Wolf density in Jasper is low enough that the animals would not be expected to be a major threat

People pass the red hearts on the COVID-19 Memorial Wall mourning those who have died, opposite the Houses of Parliament on the Embankment in London, Wednesday, April 7, 2021. On May 3, the British government announced that only one person had died of COVID-19 in the previous 24 hours. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Kirsty Wigglesworth
For a view of a COVID-19 future, Canadians should look across the pond

Britain, like Canada, is one of the only countries in the world to delay second doses for several months

Nuns of Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity, carry some of her relics during a vigil of prayer in preparation for the canonization of Mother Teresa in the St. John in Latheran Basilica at the Vatican, Friday, Sept. 2, 2016. In which city did she do much of her charitable work? (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
QUIZ: How much do you know about these motherhood issues?

In honour of Mother’s Day, take this 10-question quiz

Canada’s chief public health officer is reminding Canadians even those who are fully vaccinated are not immune from transmitting the COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s top doctor warns full vaccination does not equal full protection from COVID-19

Post-inoculation, Theresa Tam says the risk of asymptomatic infection and transmission is far lower but not obsolete

Jennifer Coffman, owner of Truffle Pigs in Field, B.C., poses beside her business sign on Thursday, May 6, 2021, in this handout photo. Her restaurant and lodge have been hit hard by a closure of a section of the Trans-Canada Highway and by the British Columbia government discouraging Alberta residents from visiting during the pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Jennifer Coffman, *MANDATORY CREDIT*
‘Why we survive’: B.C. boundary towns struggle without Albertans during pandemic

Jennifer Coffman’s restaurant is located in the tiny community of Field, which relies on tourism

A rodeo south of Bowden drew a huge crowd on May 1 and 2, 2021. (Photo courtesy Mom’s Diner’s Facebook page)

Most Read