How rapid tests are being used to test for COVID-19 across Canada

While the federal government has distributed 15.4 million rapid tests, a Global News analysis shows the use of rapid tests varies widely across the country and adding up answers from all the provinces and territories can only account for a total of less than 1.3 million either used or rolled out to local health units.

Manitoba, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nunavut and the Northwest Territories would not provide the number of tests used.

Global News sent the same list of initial questions to all provinces and territories, as well as followup questions as warranted, and provinces and territories provided varying degrees of information in their responses.

Click to play video 'Coronavirus: How are provinces using rapid tests?' 2:25 Coronavirus: How are provinces using rapid tests?

Coronavirus: How are provinces using rapid tests?

The information below is accurate as of Jan. 26, unless otherwise noted.

BRITISH COLUMBIA

How many rapid tests have been acquired?
About 1.3 million

How many have been used?
BC’s Ministry of Health could not provide a number of tests used, but says as of Jan. 12, more than 230,000 rapid point-of-care tests have been distributed to local health authorities.

Where are rapid tests used now?
According to the Ministry of Health, the province has a number of pilot programs for long-term care homes, acute care, residents coming into provincial correctional facilities, and rural and remote settings, including First Nations and Indigenous communities. The tests are also used in response to outbreaks, and “additional settings where risk of transmission is higher and people are more vulnerable to infection.”

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry told reporters on Jan. 18 that one of the pilot programs is happening in the Downtown Eastside, where the population “may not come back to get the result a day or two days later.” She noted there have been “challenges” with the tests’ performance there, “even in the relative non-cold that we have in B.C.”

In long-term care pilots, Henry noted the use of rapid tests is “very resource-intensive” and can’t replace medical screening questions when people arrive at work, nor twice-daily screening done on all residents.

“We know that it takes at least three people, that it’s about 15 minutes per person per day, and you can do multiple sets of them at a time, but they all have to be timed specifically and you have to make sure you know which one belongs to whom.”

In all cases in B.C., the tests are used as screening tools rather than diagnostic. All positive rapid test results need a confirmatory PCR lab test.

Where and when will rapid tests be rolled out next?
The Ministry of Health says “evaluation of the pilots continues.”

Click to play video 'BC Care Providers Association repeats call for rapid testing' 1:49 BC Care Providers Association repeats call for rapid testing

BC Care Providers Association repeats call for rapid testing

ALBERTA

How many rapid tests have been acquired?

Alberta has so far received 1.3 million rapid tests out of an expected two million from the federal government, according to a spokesperson for Alberta Health Services.

The province has also purchased “a small number” of the Cepheid GeneXpert machines and tests for rural hospitals, but wouldn’t disclose how many.

How many have been used?

More than 12,000 tests have been completed, and they identified 1,339 positive cases. By the end of January, Alberta expects to be doing “several thousand” rapid tests per day.

Where are rapid tests used now?

Mobile testing units visit long-term care and supportive living facilities in Edmonton and communities around central Alberta.

Different from some other provinces, Alberta only uses rapid tests on people who are within the first seven days of showing symptoms – not asymptomatic people.

“Rapid point-of-care testing is most effective when used on patients who are within the first week of showing symptoms of COVID-19, helping us to more quickly identify and manage positive cases in the community, especially in more rural and remote locations,” AHS spokesperson Kerry Williamson wrote in an email to Global News.

Any negative result must be confirmed by a lab.

Where and when will rapid tests be rolled out next?

The mobile testing units will expand to other communities “in the coming weeks.”

By the end of January, Alberta Health Services says it expects to have rapid tests at 48 assessment centres and 27 hospital labs around the province and four homeless shelters in Calgary and Edmonton.

Click to play video 'Alberta expanding COVID-19 rapid testing to long-term care, remote rural communities' 1:46 Alberta expanding COVID-19 rapid testing to long-term care, remote rural communities

Alberta expanding COVID-19 rapid testing to long-term care, remote rural communities – Dec 17, 2020

SASKATCHEWAN

How many rapid tests have been acquired?

378,880

How many have been used?

A total of 6,767 as of Jan. 20.

Where are rapid tests used now?

The province has started to use them in long-term care homes, mobile assessment sites and acute care locations, according to a spokesperson from the Saskatchewan Health Authority.

Where and when will rapid tests be rolled out next?

The province didn’t answer that, but said making sure tests meet lab regulatory requirements for both testing and reporting “is a key to the quality of this new testing process within clinical operations.”

MANITOBA

How many rapid tests have been acquired?

More than 400,000 from the federal government.

On its own, the province has purchased the Hyris bCUBE nucleic acid rapid tests for its Fast Pass school pilot program, and has an agreement with Songbird Life Sciences to purchase “up to 60,000 tests per month,” according to a provincial spokesperson.

How many have been used?

A provincial spokesperson would only say “several thousand” have been used since the fall, saying a total isn’t available because the tests are used in a number of different settings.

Where are rapid tests used now?

According to a provincial spokesperson, Manitoba has been using rapid testing in a number of places since the fall, including remote communities, correctional facilities, “health care settings such as long-term care facilities and those experiencing outbreaks,” and places that “help us to better meet the needs of vulnerable or hard to reach populations.” In long-term care, the testing is for asymptomatic people.

Through the provincial Fast Pass pilot program, teachers and other school staff with symptoms, or who have a symptomatic household member, or a close contact of an exposure through school can get the provincially purchased rapid test. The first site launched Jan. 18 in Winnipeg. Test results must be confirmed through a traditional PCR test.

Where and when will rapid tests be rolled out next?

The province “may consider using the tests more broadly across the province” once the Fast Pass pilot is finished.

Click to play video 'Coronavirus: Manitoba to test teachers semi-monthly with newly-approved rapid COVID-19 tests' 1:02 Coronavirus: Manitoba to test teachers semi-monthly with newly-approved rapid COVID-19 tests

Coronavirus: Manitoba to test teachers semi-monthly with newly-approved rapid COVID-19 tests – Dec 3, 2020

ONTARIO

How many rapid tests have been acquired?

Ontario has received 3.5 million rapid antigen tests from Ottawa as of Jan. 5. It expects to receive 12 million total tests.

The province purchased nine million rapid antigen tests of its own, but hasn’t received those yet. Premier Doug Ford recently encouraged all companies, “especially large employers,” to buy their own.

Click to play video 'Coronavirus: Ontario working to bring rapid COVID-19 tests to long-term care homes with ‘full force’' 1:01 Coronavirus: Ontario working to bring rapid COVID-19 tests to long-term care homes with ‘full force’

Coronavirus: Ontario working to bring rapid COVID-19 tests to long-term care homes with ‘full force’ – Dec 3, 2020

Ontario has also received at least 159,000 nucleic acid tests from Ottawa. (That’s the number that have been rolled out, but the province couldn’t provide a total number of those tests acquired.)

How many have been used?

Of the 3.5 million antigen tests, Ontario has only distributed about 850,000. The province couldn’t provide a total for how many of those distributed have actually been used.

Separately, the province has sent more than 159,000 nucleic acid rapid tests to 76 rural and remote settings, including 22 Indigenous and First Nation communities. It also didn’t have a total for the number of tests used.

Where are rapid tests used now?

Ontario is focused on long-term care homes and workplaces. The programs are for asymptomatic people.

It has three eight-week pilot programs for more than 160 workplaces, and a spokesperson says the province has sent tests to Air Canada, Magna and Ontario Power Generation, among others.

There are 152 long-term care homes using rapid tests to screen staff and visitors.

As for the more than 159,000 nucleic acid rapid tests used in 76 rural and remote settings, according to an Ontario Ministry of Health spokesperson, these are used in places where turnaround times for traditional PCR tests “may be slower, or to help detect positives more quickly in an early outbreak setting.”

Where and when will rapid tests be rolled out next?

The province will provide up to 300,000 antigen tests a week to “key sectors,” which would help screen up to 150,000 workers a week for the next four to five months.

According to a spokesperson, the ministry “will communicate a timeline for mandatory transition” to antigen tests in long-term care homes “in the coming weeks.”

The province is also planning to send more tests to schools.

QUEBEC

How many rapid tests have been acquired?

The province has received more than 2.5 million tests from the federal government.

This includes more than 1.9 million Abbott Panbio antigen tests, 370,000 BD Veritor antigen tests and 240,000 Abbot IDNow nucleic acid rapid tests.

How many have been used?

Of the 2.5 million tests, only 10,000 rapid tests have been used as of Jan. 15.

Where are rapid tests used now?

According to a spokesperson for Quebec’s Ministry of Health and Social Services, the tests are used in a number of places, including designated testing centres, long-term care and other seniors’ homes.

A research pilot program kicked off in two Montreal high schools on Jan. 25.

Click to play video 'Coronavirus: Rapid testing for COVID-19 to start in 2 Montreal schools' 2:15 Coronavirus: Rapid testing for COVID-19 to start in 2 Montreal schools

Coronavirus: Rapid testing for COVID-19 to start in 2 Montreal schools – Jan 19, 2021

Where and when will rapid tests be rolled out next?

While traditional lab-based tests continue to be the gold standard and preferred, a ministry spokesperson says they will use more rapid tests as per the guidelines laid out by a provincial expert group in a mid-January report.

The report recommends rapid nucleic acid tests be used in remote areas, testing clinics and seniors’ homes during outbreaks. Antigen tests should be used when transferring clients between locations, in workplace outbreaks, to supplement other tests and for marginalized groups.

NEW BRUNSWICK

How many rapid tests have been acquired?

According to a spokesperson for New Brunswick’s Ministry of Health, the province has received 188,000 rapid antigen tests and “41 point of care instruments, and 22,632 accompanying tests” from Ottawa, but wouldn’t answer multiple followup questions trying to clarify which type of tests the latter referred to.

How many have been used?

The province wouldn’t answer.

Where are rapid tests used now?

Rapid tests are being used “in rural health care settings, emergency rooms, shelters and provincial correctional facilities, as required,” wrote COVID-19 communications lead Bruce Macfarlane in an email to Global News.

Where and when will rapid tests be rolled out next?

The province didn’t answer.

NOVA SCOTIA

How many rapid tests have been acquired?

The province has received 287,000 from Ottawa.

How many have been used?

Approximately 15,000.

Where are rapid tests used now?

Nova Scotia has used pop-up rapid testing sites in almost all regions of the province.

“The locations of pop-up sites are based on epidemiology and are targeted at a population,” wrote Department of Health and Wellness spokesperson Marla MacInnis.

To get a rapid test, you must be 16 or older, asymptomatic, and not have visited “potential exposure locations during the time-period as outlined by public health.” All positive results must be confirmed by a lab.

The province earned a shout-out in the National Testing and Screening Expert Advisory Panel’s new report for its use of rapid testing among people who visited bars and restaurants.

Where and when will rapid tests be rolled out next?

The province says it is learning from the pop-up sites and planning “for even wider use.” That includes in long-term homes in the medium to longer term.

Read more: Mobile COVID-19 testing unit to be at Dalhousie University this week

PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND

How many rapid tests have been acquired?

P.E.I. has received about 30,000 rapid antigen tests and 3,000 rapid nucleic acid tests from Ottawa.

How many have been used?

The province has used none of the rapid antigen shipments and asked Ottawa to stop sending them. They are “not considered safe to use on PEI at this time. This is a combination of the precautions required to process and handle the product, the accuracy of negatives and positives (only 50 percent),” Health PEI spokesperson Jessica Bruce wrote in an email to Global News.

P.E.I. has used about 400 of the nucleic acid tests.

Where are rapid tests used now?

The 400 nucleic acid tests were all used at a University of Prince Edward Island testing event. P.E.I. is also using them at regional hospitals “as a preliminary test.”

Where and when will rapid tests be rolled out next?

Bruce points out P.E.I. has no community spread, “which reduces the need for testing in schools or long term care homes.” P.E.I. lab tests are also able to be turned around much faster than in other places — within six to 12 hours on average.

“There might be a role for (rapid testing) in provinces that have high positive rates like 10 percent. Ours is 0.12 percent or 100 times less,” wrote Bruce.

NEWFOUNDLAND AND LABRADOR

How many rapid tests have been acquired?

The province has received 126,000 rapid antigen tests and 18,240 rapid nucleic acid tests from Ottawa.

How many have been used?

The province would not answer.

Where are rapid tests used now?

Newfoundland and Labrador is not yet using any of its antigen tests, “as the Testing Guidance Working Group are developing a community validation protocol,” the Department of Health and Community Services wrote in an email to Global News.

The rapid nucleic acid tests have been used to test people “in a community setting” to figure out if there has been community spread. All results were negative.

Where and when will rapid tests be rolled out next?

The department says given the province’s low rate of COVID-19, it currently has no plans to use them more widely.

YUKON

How many rapid tests have been acquired?

The territory has acquired 9,600 Abbott Panbio rapid antigen tests and 15,720 Abbott ID Now rapid nucleic acid tests from Ottawa.

Separately, the territory gets Cepheid GeneXpert tests through an agreement with B.C., but couldn’t say how many it has received.

How many have been used?

Yukon has not used any of its Abbott tests, antigen nor nucleic acid. In an email to Global News, spokesperson Patricia Living said “Yukon is currently finalizing its POC (point of care) program.”

Yukon has used 264 GeneXpert tests since July.

Where are rapid tests used now?

The Cepheid GenExpert systems are only being used in hospital settings.

Where and when will rapid tests be rolled out next?

Right now, Yukon has no plans to use tests more widely.

“In a population such as Yukon, with no community spread and no active cases, it may not be appropriate to roll out these tests at this point,” wrote Living.

NORTHWEST TERRITORIES

How many rapid tests have been acquired?

The territory would not answer. Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Kami Kandola said the N.W.T. is “very pleased with the generous allocation of tests” from Ottawa.

How many have been used?

The territory would not answer.

Where are rapid tests used now?

The Northwest Territories has rapid point-of-care devices in all 33 communities. Kandola said the most important use is in small communities. The N.W.T. has both antigen and nucleic acid rapid tests.

Where and when will rapid tests be rolled out next?

There are no plans to use rapid tests in other community settings such as schools. Kandola says the N.W.T. requires “someone with a health qualification to administer” the test.

“We are also working with private industry to make rapid tests available to test people with symptoms at major worksites/camps,” said Kandola.

NUNAVUT

How many rapid tests have been acquired?

The territory would not say how many tests it has acquired. It has both antigen and nucleic acid tests from the federal government, and has purchased its own, but would not provide any specifics.

How many have been used?

The territory would not answer.

Where are rapid tests used now?

Earlier in the pandemic, the territory used the Cepheid GeneXpert system but sent samples to southern labs to confirm results, the Department of Health wrote in an email to Global News. Since the fall, it has used the BioFire system instead, and since November, confirms the results in labs in Nunavut. Health Canada designates BioFire as a lab-based, rather than point-of-care, test.

Rapid nucleic acid tests are used “in the health centres in the communities where long-term care facilities are located,” the department wrote in response to a question about whether tests would be rolled out more widely in long-term care homes in future. The answers did not make clear where they are currently being used, and the territory did not respond to followup questions.

Rapid antigen tests are used at the Winnipeg isolation hub.

Where and when will rapid tests be rolled out next?

The territory would not answer.

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