Rapid testing expands to asymptomatic oilsands, long-term care workers

By Catherine Griwkowsky February 10, 2021

Health Minister Tyler Shandro revealed that a study of rapid Covid tests has been quietly running at Suncor’s plant in Fort McMurray.

The University of Toronto’s Creative Destruction Lab has been testing approximately 325 workers twice a week, 200 at Suncor and 125 in the First Nation and Métis community of Fort McKay, for the past two weeks; the pilot is set to last 10 weeks.

“The Suncor pilot is also an exciting development and a critical first to what I hope will be many private sector employers embracing rapid tests to restart the economy,” Shandro said. His office stressed that the province didn’t “choose” Suncor for the pilot — the firm was approached by the U of T-linked non-profit as part of its countrywide antigen screening program.

Meanwhile, long-term care and continuing care facilities will have to wait until at least next week, when the province rolls out its own rapid tests, to start screening asymptomatic staff.

The province will start with three long-term care sites, with the goal of reaching all 36,000 staff working in LTC and supportive living facilities. Staff at those sites will be tested once a week, unless the number of cases in the community hits five per cent, which will trigger twice-weekly testing.

Alberta has already been using rapid testing at 33 rural and remote Covid assessment centres, 29 hospitals, seven homeless shelters, and LTC homes where a potential outbreak has occurred.

Shandro said data from the Suncor pilot will be shared with Health Canada.

Shandro acknowledged the value of asymptomatic testing in rapid tests is not known and that any positive results will have to be followed up with more accurate PCR tests.

NDP Leader Rachel Notley said the rapid testing in long-term care homes and at Suncor is a positive step, but questioned why meat-processing facilities aren’t part of the rollout.

According to the ministry, the province has received about 1.9 million rapid tests to date and it is using the tests that will start to expire in April first.