Politics

Canada desperately needs access to rapid COVID-19 tests as winter approaches, says leading doctor

Canada desperately needs access to rapid saliva testing for COVID-19 as the country prepares to head indoors for the winter, says one of Canada’s leading doctors.

Dr. David Naylor says virus will spread faster as winter forces more people indoors

Provincial health workers perform a nasal swab to test for COVID-19 on Raymond Robins of the remote First Nation community of Gull Bay, Ont., on April 21. Proponents of saliva-based testing say it is easier to administer — and less uncomfortable. (David Jackson/Reuters)

Canada desperately needs access to rapid saliva testing for COVID-19 as the country prepares to head indoors for the winter, says one of Canada's leading doctors.

"We need to have our A-game here in testing and tracing," Dr. David Naylor told host Vassy Kapelos on CBC News Network's Power & Politics Monday.

"We really desperately need some rapid testing to be done at points of congregation, or points of meetings, so that you can have use of some form of salivary testing or rapid nucleic acid testing, or even antigen testing in schools and work sites. That would really help things here."

Dr. David Naylor: 'The rolling averages are going in the wrong direction.' (Friends of CIHR/Patrick Doyle/Facebook)

Naylor, a former dean of medicine and president of the University of Toronto, said there is no need to panic over the rising number of cases because a reopening economy was bound to lead to that, but there are good reasons to be vigilant.

"No matter how you cut it, it looks like the case counts are climbing," said Naylor. "The rolling averages are going in the wrong direction. It's not a hugely steep steep increase … but it's a legitimate source of concern. There's some variation by province but the national trend isn't where we'd like it to be."

Naylor said the worry is that cases are rising right before Canadians prepare to spend more time indoors over the winter.

He said that the symptoms of COVID-19 are so similar to those of the flu and the common cold that it will put more pressure on the testing regime as more people exhibiting symptoms seek tests.

Naylor said that children and adults in the workplace should be tested with rapid result tests, such as a saliva-based test, even if those tests produce false positives and are not as reliable as lab tests. When such tests show someone has COVID-19, he said, that person should be immediately tested again to confirm the result.

"That test will help rule out the false positive. If after those two tests you still got a positive, you say, 'OK, let's do a swab or send the swab to the public health lab,'" said Naylor.

Labs across the country and around the world are working to create better and faster testing regimes and Naylor and others have been pushing the government to adopt them, he said.

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