Montreal

Animal labs and saliva samples among ways Quebec hopes to boost COVID-19 testing

Animal lab technicians in Quebec, who usually check samples from livestock for viruses like the avian flu, are helping the province test humans for COVID-19. It is among several measures Quebec is deploying to boost its testing capacity ahead of a possible second wave of infections.

Province is also starting to use private labs to process samples

Health worker uses nasal swab to test patient for COVID-19. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

Animal lab technicians in Quebec, who usually check samples from livestock for viruses like the avian flu, are helping the province test humans for COVID-19.

It is among several measures Quebec is deploying to boost its testing capacity ahead of a possible second wave of infections.

A group of lab technicians at Quebec's Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAPAQ) has been trained to analyze samples taken at COVID-19 testing sites.

Should the second wave put a strain on the province's current testing system, the MAPAQ technicians and three private labs in Montreal will help speed up the processing of results. 

"We're a lab that is ready to intervene in case of a pandemic in animals, so it's only natural that they'd call us for this," said Olivia Labrecque, interim director of the of the MAPAQ's animal health laboratory.

MAPAQ labs have already analyzed nearly 100,000 COVID-19 tests.

Health Minister Christian Dubé said the government is looking at different ways to cut down the amount of time people have to wait for their test results. 

Quebecers who fill out the government's online COVID-19 self-assessment form now have the option of receiving their results online directly from the lab, instead of having to wait for a call from the clinic where they were tested. 

"That's how we'll be able to decrease the overall wait times for this process," Dubé said in an interview with Radio-Canada. 

Saliva tests coming soon

Two private labs in Montreal — Dynacare and Caprion Biosciences Inc. — have analyzed around 15,000 COVID-19 tests so far and are also ready to do more if the need arises.

But Martin Leblanc, president of Caprion Biosciences, said the government should develop a quicker training program for lab technicians, proposing it follow the model used to train 10,000 additional patient care attendants in Quebec. 

In this April 3, 2020, photo, technicians assemble saliva collection devices in a clean room at Spectrum DNA in Draper, Utah. The company has developed a test kit to detect the coronavirus in patients' saliva. (Rick Bowmer/AP Photo)

"We need a certain accreditation for certified lab technicians. The training has to be sped up a bit," Leblanc said.

The other development that could herald quicker test results is technology that uses saliva, rather than a nasal swab, to detect for COVID-19. 

At a news conference on Friday,  a senior public health official, Dr. Richard Massé, said saliva tests would be available "soon," though he declined to give an exact date.

Massé said public health experts had examined an earlier version of the saliva test, but were unimpressed with its reliability. 

But the latest generation of saliva test has delivered "much better results" Massé said. "We think we should be able to use them soon."

Quebec currently aims to test at least 14,000 people daily. Dubé said he believes the province will eventually be able to test between 25,000 and 30,000 tests per day.

Based on a report by Radio-Canada's Véronique Prince

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