COVID-19: Results revealed for rapid testing project at Montreal schools

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WATCH: Nearly five months after a pilot project began looking into rapid COVID-19 testing in schools, the results are finally in. According to researchers, though the tests have their limitations, they can still be valuable. Global’s Phil Carpenter reports. – May 17, 2021

Rapid COVID-19 testing among asymptomatic students is not a good use of resources, a group of researchers say.

The researchers are conducting a pilot project to see how effective the tests are at detecting the virus.  More than 4,500 students and staff at two Montreal schools were tested between January and May.

“What we discovered is that using those rapid tests in schools is not efficient in one way,” explained lead researcher Dr. Caroline Quach, a pediatric infectious diseases specialist at Ste. Justine Hospital.

Read more: Coronavirus: Rapid testing for COVID-19 starts at two Montreal high schools

According to Quach, for the most part the test failed to detect the virus among asymptomatic carriers.  Most of those people had a low viral load and were less likely to transmit.  She said only five positive asymptomatic carriers were caught.

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“However, using rapid tests for kids who have symptoms, three times out of four we were able to diagnose COVID within 15 minutes,” she said.  “Those subjects had a high viral load.”

She stressed, therefore, that the time and energy spent testing those without symptoms could be used doing other things.

Still, she believes there are instances in which rapid testing is valuable, however.  For example, in enclosed spaces like gyms or restaurants, where patrons may not have received two doses of vaccine.

Read more: Rapid antigen tests unreliable in asymptomatic COVID-19 cases: study

Another example is in elementary schools where children under 12 are not vaccinated, she said, noting that children can develop symptoms while at school.

Cardiologist and epidemiologist Dr. Christopher Labos agrees.

“Rapidly screening people, let’s say at an airport or coming into a concert where your gonna need rapid results, it does serve a purpose,” he pointed out.

He added that it could also be very useful in a hospital triage setting where it’s not clear what symptoms a patient is displaying.

“Because if you want to know how to triage somebody, do you put them into the COVID area, or the non-COVID area?  That test is useful,” he reasoned.

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He cautions being overly reliant on them though.

“We have to be conscious of the fact that these tests aren’t perfect,” he noted.  “False negatives are an issue.”

For both Labos and Quach, it’s another tool with which to fight the virus.

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