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Quebec plans to use rapid tests days after health minister said they weren’t needed

Health Department officials warned that the rapid tests are less accurate than the laboratory tests Quebec currently relies on

January 15, 2021  The Canadian Press

MONTREAL — Quebec’s Health Department said Jan. 15 that it plans to make more use of rapid COVID-19 tests, less than a week after the province’s health minister told reporters the tests were unnecessary.

The decision to increase use of the tests comes after a report by a committee of 30 experts commissioned by the Health Department, released publicly on Jan. 15, recommended “prudent” use of the tests.

Health Department officials warned that the rapid tests are less accurate than the laboratory tests Quebec currently relies on.

However, Dr. Isabelle Goupil-Sormany, the co-chair of the committee, told reporters at a technical briefing on Thursday afternoon that there is a place for rapid tests if they’re used carefully.

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Quebec plans to make increasing use over the next 60 days of a test that detects the virus’s RNA. That test, known by the brand name ID NOW, will be used to test people with symptoms who live in isolated areas, such as Indigenous communities and the North.

Another technology, which detect antigens created by the body’s immune response to the virus, could be used among marginalized communities that have difficulty accessing regular testing facilities, as well as during large outbreaks in workplaces and senior’s residences, the committee said. However, some of those results will have be validated through lab tests.

The Health Department plans to continue evaluating the use of rapid tests, including with a pilot project in two Montreal high schools.

On Jan. 11, Health Minister Christian Dube said the tests weren’t needed because Quebec is already testing enough.

More than 80% of tests conducted in Quebec have results within 24 hours and the province has the capacity to do thousands more laboratory tests per day, Denis Ouellet, the director of medical biology at the Health Department said Thursday.

The announcement comes the same day 200 Quebec scientists published an open letter calling on the province to make more use of rapid tests.

Marie-Pascale Pomey, a public health professor at Universite de Montreal and one of the signatories of the letter, called Thursday’s announcement by the government a positive first step.

“We already have some interesting results in different places, so we know that in some cases where the virus is very prevalent, it’s a tool to slow down the propagation of the virus,” Pomey said.