Nfld. & Labrador

A private lab in St. John's is planning COVID-19 testing for use by employers and businesses

A private lab in St. John's says it will provide COVID-19 analysis to private sector employers who are able to properly administer and collect the test swabs using a registered medical practitioner or a medical consulting firm.

Testing should be operational by June, owner says

Paul Antle, owner of Avalon Laboratories Inc. says his company will be able to turn around COVID-19 test results in about four hours. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

A private lab in St. John's says it will provide COVID-19 analysis to private sector employers who are able to properly administer and collect the test swabs using a registered medical practitioner or a medical consulting firm.

Avalon Laboratories Inc. is the only nationally certified, private lab in Newfoundland and Labrador, owner Paul Antle told CBC News on Tuesday. 

Antle said his lab deals in microbiology, toxicology and water testing for the oil and gas industry, mining industry and some of the health authorities, as well as the food industry such as the fishery. He said on top of being nationally accredited, his lab also has a containment Level 2 designation which allows it to test biohazard samples including COVID-19. 

"So what we've done is research the type of equipment that we would need in order to provide that service. We've gotten a lot of inquiries from our existing customers," Antle said. 

"Many of our customers have come to us, and they're looking at preventative measures for screening their employees, for keeping their workplaces safe, creating ease among their staff for returning to work or employees who rotate in and out of shift work."

Antle said his lab has developed programming for employers to have its employees tested by a medical practitioner or local nurse. From there the tests will be delivered to his lab, and results would be issued within four hours. 

Testing should be underway when the equipment arrives at some point in June, he said.

Paul Antle said his lab should be able to test for COVID-19 by June. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

"The economy is really important to us and employers want to get back to work and generate revenue, and at the same time they want to be able to keep their employees safe," he said.

"So this is a great option for those who really want to speed things up a little bit and be absolutely sure that the people that are coming back into the workplace are free of covid." 

Similar to government

Antle said the equipment his lab is receiving is almost identical to that in which the provincial government uses for its tests. He said his lab can also operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week if necessary. 

He said the lab, as well as the employer, has a responsibility then to report any positive cases of COVID-19 to public health. 

"That's being included in our protocol for testing. The employers are being made aware of that as well," Antle said. 

"It's all about community health, and keeping people safe and being preventative."

Antle said the cost model hasn't been set yet for employers, but added it will cost less than $100 per test swab. 

'Testing is one part of a puzzle'

During Tuesday's COVID-19 briefing Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, the province's chief medical officer of health said negative tests are only indicative of that day's result.  

When asked if she recommends employers utilize a private lab for testing, Fitzgerald issued a warning about continuing to comply with public health measures instead of relying on testing alone. 

Dr. Janice Fitzgerald said on Tuesday Antle has not been in contact with public health about his businesses plans for COVID-19 testing as of yet. (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador )

"If you're relying on testing to keep your workplace safe, outside of all the other measures that we have recommended be in place, I think that you're going to find that that method will fail," she said. 

"Testing is one part of a puzzle, with regard to diagnosis. We're using a diagnostic test to screen people. That's not always effective. So, certainly anyone who is considering doing that you need to consider the whole picture."

Premier Dwight Ball said he has not been in discussion with Antle as of yet. Fitzgerald said public health has also not been in discussion with Antle about his testing plans.

Read more articles from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Mark Quinn