Rapid COVID tests could end lockdowns, says Timmins mayor; others not so sure
As communities grapple with a third provincial lockdown and a second stay-at-home order, Timmins Mayor George Pirie says widespread use of rapid COVID-19 testing could offer some economic and mental relief. (File)
TIMMINS -- As communities grapple with a third provincial lockdown and a second stay-at-home order, Timmins Mayor George Pirie says widespread use of rapid COVID-19 testing could offer some economic and mental relief.
Pirie told CTV that Queen's Park allowed talks around what's known as rapid antigen testing fizzle once vaccines started arriving. But he said its use in businesses and facilities would help prevent the spread of the virus.
"If I make an appointment to get a haircut, I can arrive in that facility with a clean COVID-19 bill of health, if you will," Pirie said. "We can envision a situation that this just becomes standard practice."
The province recently launched a pilot program in the Waterloo region that will give rapid antigen testing kits to small and medium businesses to screen their workers.
Timmins Chamber of Commerce president Melanie Verreault said they are working with the province and the Kitchener-Waterloo and Cambridge chambers of commerce to bring the program to Timmins.
Verreault said talks are ongoing about what the program would look like in this city, but if it's anything like the existing pilot, she said an extra screening measure for workers is something that the whole community needs.
"It gets employees back to work, certainly ensures continuity for productivity and, of course, it reduces strain on families," Verreault said.
Gaining traction around the country
Elsewhere in Canada, businesses and schools are using rapid testing as additional COVID-19 screening measures.
Provinces such as Alberta and Prince Edward Island have launched pilot programs to use rapid testing in airports, with the aim of reducing mandatory quarantine times.
In northeastern Ontario, rapid testing is being used in mining operations and seniors facilities in the city, Pirie said, and so the eventual goal would be to expand that to the rest of the area.
However, France Gelinas, Ontario NDP health critic and Nickel Belt MPP, isn't a fan of widespread use of rapid testing.
For one thing, Gelinas said the lower accuracy of those tests, compared to the 'gold standard' PCR tests, is a major concern for her. Rapid tests can lead to more false negatives and even false positives, which Gelinas feels makes it too risky to rely on as a screening tool.
As well, she said a situation that would require rapid tests as part of daily life would make things unnecessarily inconvenient for northerners, given its 20-minute turnaround time.
"There are some circumstances where it would make sense," said Gelinas. "But do I see people in northern Ontario willing to wait 20 minutes outside of a hardware store before they go buy a new shovel? No."
Gelinas suggested that common use of rapid testing might be more practical in larger cities like Toronto, where people may be more used to waiting for food or services. Though, she noted, the method could be useful at events or situations where an appointment is needed.
A tool in the toolbox
For the Porcupine Health Unit's chief nursing officer, Chantal Riopel, rapid testing can be useful to screen for COVID-19 when used properly — but due to its margin of error, she said it should be an added tool, in conjunction with the current safety measures.
"It's not intended to replace the public health measures or to replace the infection control measures that workplaces have," Riopel said. "It's a screening and not a way of preventing COVID or replacing those public health measures."
For Pirie, every method available to curb the spread of the virus should be used — particularly to prevent further provincial lockdowns that he said his city can no longer handle.
"We have no more money to continue to have more lockdowns," Pirie said. "There's only a certain amount of patience you can ask everybody to have."