Testing for COVID can be faster and easier, for those Canadians willing to pay for it

PCR tests are the gold-standard for COVID-19 testing, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

By Camryn Patterson

The dreaded swab up the nose could soon be swapped out with a saliva-based test for those who are asymptomatic and willing to pay a fee of $250.

Ichor Blood Services is a private, Calgary-based COVID-19 testing facilitator, and due to high demand in one of the highest-infected provinces, they’re partnering with DrugSmart Pharmacy and Travel Health Now to bring asymptomatic saliva-based PCR testing to Ontario on Jan. 4.

“How it will work is people can book in with DrugSmart, walk in to a pharmacy location, provide their saliva specimen into a tube, it will be packaged up and sent to the lab, and results will be provided 36 to 48 hours later,” said Mike Kuzmickas, the chief executive officer of Ichor.

DrugSmart is hoping to have their first two or three Ontario locations up and running by the new year, and Ichor is aiming to have its own Toronto location open by Jan. 15, said Kuzmickas. DrugSmart and Travel Health Now also have brick and mortar locations in Toronto, Ottawa, Peterborough and Kingston. Ichor also has several testing locations in Alberta, as well as Niagara Falls and Fredricton, NB.

Although testing in Ontario has picked up its pace, the saliva-based test will still be an appealing alternative. But it won’t be available to everyone. The tests are more aimed at people who are travelling and workers who will need a negative test in order to return to work.

PCR testing – polymerase chain reaction testing – is a way to detect an active COVID-19 infection in someone. According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, a PCR test is the gold-standard for COVID-19 testing.

Kuzmickas said that Ichor was one of the first companies in Ontario to offer private antibody testing in April, and now they’ve decided to bring forward an alternate collection method for PCR testing.

According to Kuzmickas, you will have to prove you’re asymptomatic to get this kind of PCR test. Anybody who walks into an Ichor facility or a partner company will have to go through an extensive COVID-19 screening process and if they come back as symptomatic, they’ll be redirected to general public health testing.

James Howard-Tripp, chief executive officer of Stage Zero Life Sciences, said that the saliva-based tests are highly reliable. His company is doing the lab work for Ichor. Nothing is 100 per cent accurate, he said “but you can be 99.99, and that is what PCR is.”

The downfall, he said, is the turnaround times. PCR tests are not instantaneous, even with a saliva-based process. Results take at least 24 hours.

A 36 to to 48-hour wait would’ve seemed quite unrealistic back in early October when Ontario was experiencing a severe backlog of unprocessed tests. Once they were processed, Howard-Tripp said it was taking four days to almost two weeks to get the results back to people.

“If you don’t get the result back really quickly, the test is of relatively little value,” he said.

Ichor Blood Services can provide infection testing to satisfy some countries’ need for a negative test before a traveller’s arrival.

“As of right now, we’re tied in with Air Canada on their Hawaii travel program,” Kuzmickas said. The Hawaii Safe Travels Program allows inbound passengers, as of Dec. 17, to skip quarantine upon arrival – a perk for many.

Even with vaccines on the horizon, and public health authorities promising most people should receive their shots by September, there’s no guarantee everyone will get them. There will still remain a need for testing, Kuzmickas said. “Testing is the key to getting through this.”

Source: National Post Quebec Nordiques