An Alberta man is questioning the effectiveness of the Calgary airport’s expedited COVID-19 test pilot after a family member returned home and spread the virus to at least seven other people after an initial negative result.
Last month, Gabe Kane’s sister, who currently lives with him and his family, took part in the YYC rapid test pilot program for a work-related trip to Utah.
The pilot program allows international travellers to bypass the mandatory 14-day quarantine rule if they receive a negative COVID-19 test result.
When Kane’s sister returned, she isolated at the airport hotel until her first test result came back. Two and a half days later, she received a negative result.
Upon receiving the negative result, she returned to Kane’s house and stayed there, awaiting the required second test.
But just days after returning to Kane’s house, she started feeling sick.
“She had just had a negative (COVID-19) test, so we didn’t think much of it — it’s cold and flu season,” Kane said.
A second test — received one week after her initial negative result — came back “indeterminate,” which requires the person to immediate isolate and book a follow-up test.
But the damage had been done. Kane believes the virus spread as soon as his sister entered the house, infecting his family.
“My sister, her two kids have it, my wife has it, I have it,” said Kane.
“For sure, at least eight people.”
It spread beyond the house as well, as Kane went to work the day after his sister came home, before anyone was showing symptoms.
There, he unknowingly infected a coworker who has since been dealing with intense and painful symptoms.
No one has been hospitalized, but for a fitness enthusiast like Kane, the symptoms have been a struggle.
“Still have a headache, I’m still tired,” Kane said.
“I’m a pretty healthy guy. I thought I would kick this in two or three days. That’s not the case and it’s pretty disappointing.”
When asked about the airport pilot program, Alberta’s chief medical officer, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, said she’s confident in the process.
“The test that’s being done for the border pilot is one that has Health Canada approval. It is as sensitive and specific as the tests being done in the provincial laboratory,” she said.
Kane believes the initial result was a “false negative,” but Alberta Health says COVID-19 tests are only “a-point-in-time assessment,” meaning it only tests whether that person is contagious in that very moment and, as experts have said in the past, the virus has a 14-day incubation period.
A spokesperson said that a person can be “incubating the virus, test negative, and then become contagious later on.”
“This is the reason for multiple tests. Testing negative on the first one and then positive later on does not indicate that the first test was a ‘false negative,'” Alberta Health explained.
Kane said he’s on board with an expedited test program, but believes there should be two negative results, not one, before leaving isolation and potentially putting others at risk.
“That would be my one takeaway from this.
“I think requiring people to isolate for 14 days is maybe too excessive. But at least requiring them to isolate until they get that second test back after six days I think is probably reasonable.
“Now, maybe I think they’ve gone a little too lax.
“At least in my situation, I would not be sick, my kids would not be isolated, I would not have infected my colleague, had it not been for this pilot program.”
The province says it plans to expand the expedited test program to the Edmonton International Airport in 2021.