As Canada and many other countries are struggling with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, numerous scientific studies and health experts have underscored the importance of mass testing to curb the spread of the coronavirus. A growing body of research demonstrates that despite multiple vaccines being available to date, rapid testing and screening of the community is vital in assessing the prevalence of COVID-19 and where to best allocate resources to combat the spread.
One of the main advantages of rapid tests is that they can be used as a screening tool for asymptomatic individuals, providing results in minutes rather than the days. Results from rapid tests can provide individuals with vital information that can influence their actions. For example, an asymptomatic individual with a positive result from a rapid test has information that encourages respecting the self-isolation protocols while they await lab confirmation.
Some countries have already implemented mass COVID-19 testing to screen their populations, including Slovakia, where over 5 million tests were carried out by trained medical staff in October and November, reducing the number of infections by 58%. In addition, significant reductions in the number of COVID-19 cases have been observed in Liverpool, UK following the implementation of mass testing. Likewise, rapid testing at university campuses across the US has brought some encouraging results, with local health authorities implementing broader access to community testing.
Furthermore, according to an analysis carried out by researchers from Harvard and University of Colorado Boulder, “regular mass rapid testing could eliminate the virus “within weeks”.
Previous examples of successful examples to reduce the incidence of the disease include the mass screening strategy employed by Egypt to screen its population for hepatitis C infections. Due to the successful implementation of the universal screening program, Egypt is predicted to soon be able to eradicate the disease.
However, mass COVID-19 testing initiatives also involve important challenges. For instance, a new and ongoing COVID-19 saliva-based testing program to replace the nasal swabs has received many complaints from students due to the “long lines, rejected tests and an increased time commitment,” according to the Wisconsin State Journal. In addition, saliva tests for COVID-19 have been associated with problems related to sampling, handling, and, ultimately, their processing.
The new testing program requires all undergraduates living in the Madison area, to be tested twice a week, even if their classes are online. In addition, there are logistical challenges to digitizing and consolidating test data to manage and control outbreaks and pandemics. In order for the mass testing strategies to be successful in preventing the spread of COVID-19, the data needs to be shared easily to create appropriate strategies and policies.
Recently, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has urged provinces to use COVID-19 rapid testing while vaccinations are being administered. “There’s a real need for this testing,” Trudeau said in a news conference earlier in February. “Tests must be deployed. They can’t be allowed to expire.”
So far, Canada has sent 19.6 million rapid tests to the provinces and territories, according to Trudeau. Rapid tests have already been used in schools, workplaces, and long-term-care homes for screening across Canada.
More recently, Canada has also authorized the use of COVID-19 Antibody and Antigen tests which can help assess the scope of the infection within the community.