New Brunswick explores using rapid COVID-19 tests for daily commuters

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WATCH: New Brunswick is looking at using rapid tests for some essential workers who must enter the province each day. As Silas Brown reports, many workers, including daily commuters, must take a weekly COVID-19 test. But that may soon change. – Feb 5, 2021

New Brunswick is looking to use more of its stockpile of COVID-19 rapid tests.

The government says it is developing a process to use rapid tests for some essential workers who currently require weekly tests. That group includes daily commuters who travel from outside of the province for work, as well as truckers from the province.

“Public Health is currently working on a process to deliver and deploy rapid screening tests to individuals who will require weekly testing in the province,” Department of Health spokesperson Bruce Macfarlane wrote in an email.

“Rapid screening tests are currently used in rural health care settings, emergency rooms, shelters and provincial correctional facilities, as required, with remaining amounts held in storage for contingency purposes.”

Read more: How rapidly is Canada rolling out COVID-19 rapid testing?

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Green Leader David Coon says the plan is a smart bet to further guard against outbreaks of the coronavirus and expects to see it in practice in the near future.

“Really the most important role for those rapid tests in the New Brunswick context is to pick up more positive cases among daily commuters,” he said in an interview.

“A number of our border communities depend on those daily commuters who are doctors and nurses and other health-care professionals.”

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The province has a stockpile of two types of rapid tests, one known as a screening test and the other as a diagnostic.

Dr. Jennifer Russell says the latter is more effective and in short supply and is often used in pre-op settings as well as in response to outbreaks in long-term care homes and other vulnerable facilities.

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Russell says it would likely be the screening tests deployed at the border. The province has a larger stockpile, but they aren’t as effective, offering both false-positive and false-negative results. Any positive result must be followed up with a standard PCR test to confirm.

But Russell says the greater danger lies in potential false negatives.

“For the false negative, though, that brings a higher risk with it, because when you miss people that means they’re out there transmitting. With COVID-19 as we knew it, not ideal, but with the new variant, really not ideal,” she said.

“So we do want to be careful which types of situations we use them in.”

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The tests are approved for symptomatic testing, but Russell says some jurisdictions have used them in asymptomatic testing. But in that case, the tests are less accurate.

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“We are looking at those situations and again it’s all about balancing the risks based on the resources that we have, knowing that, again, we have a ways to go before we get our vaccines rolled out to the extent that we want,” Russell said.

“So we’re trying to manage all these balls in the air at the same time in terms of dealing with the current outbreaks, trying to contain those, worrying about the new variant arriving, trying to prevent it from arriving in the first place and then trying to make sure that we have the tightest mitigation … to try and prevent the transmission of the virus.”

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The Liberals say they want to see rapid testing for truck drivers from out of province as well.

“It’s very important to look at using the rapid tests for truck drivers coming from the west or from the states,” said Jean-Claude D’Amours, the Liberal health critic.

People’s Alliance Leader Kris Austin says he would like to see rapid testing expanded to anyone entering the province via air travel, including rotational workers.

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