Air Canada planes sit on the tarmac at Pearson International Airport during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto on Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Air Canada planes sit on the tarmac at Pearson International Airport during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto on Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Air Canada, Rogers and Suncor part of consortium piloting rapid COVID-19 testing

People behind scheme hope it will help struggling workplaces get on their feet

Some of Canada’s top airlines, banks and sports teams have united to pilot rapid tests identifying COVID-19 in hopes that they can find a way to reopen workplaces.

The pilot is being run by the University of Toronto’s Creative Destruction Lab, which has partnered with 12 companies including Air Canada and Rogers Communications Inc. to experiment with antigen tests that take about 15 minutes to deliver results.

Those behind the project believe it could give Canada’s corporate world a road map to quelling the spread of COVID-19 in workplaces that have had to close or have struggled to contain outbreaks.

“What we are trying to do is break the chain of transmission,” said Ajay Agrawal, the founder of the Creative Destruction Lab, a non-profit helping science and tech firms.

“We are using screening to stop one infected person from infecting other people in the workplace.”

Rogers Communications Inc. and Air Canada were the first two companies to begin the testing and in late January were joined by Suncor Energy Inc. and Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, Agrawal said.

Bank of Nova Scotia, Loblaw Companies Ltd., Shoppers Drug Mart, MDA Corp., Magna International Inc., Nutrien Ltd. and Canada Pension Plan Investments are expected to begin testing soon.

It wasn’t hard to get the companies on board, said Agrawal, because everyone is eager to reduce the spread of the virus and lift severe lockdown measures that have closed businesses across Canada and forced others into bankruptcy.

“I think they look across the country and all they see is carnage. Economic carnage,” said Agrawal.

His lab got executives from the companies together at the start of the pandemic when he realized that a “novel” health crisis would also need novel solutions.

They formed a “vision council” and convinced Mark Little from Suncor, Galen G. Weston of Loblaw and Shoppers Drug Mart and Don Walker from Magna to join.

Former Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney and author Margaret Atwood took part as “thought leaders.”

After presentations and poring over plenty of numbers, they decided to put up their money and time and agree to share data as they experiment with rapid testing.

Two retired military generals with experience in Afghanistan were called in, and they began rehearsing how to make the testing as efficient as possible.

They reduced the entire screening process from seven minutes per person to 90 seconds.

“They keep trying to chisel down the time and expense,” Agrawal said.

“For example they had a medical professional doing Step 1, 2 and 3 and they realized we don’t need a medical professional doing step two and that brings the cost down.”

The pilot tests workers twice a week and makes use of millions of rapid tests obtained by the federal government and dispersed across provinces, who were allowed to allocate them for businesses.

Those in the pilot who get tested are allowed to continue with their work. When the results arrive roughly 15 minutes later, anyone with a positive result is contacted immediately and asked to take a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test.

READ MORE: Air Canada uses social media influencers to promote travel abroad, despite stay-home direction

Agrawal considers the PCR tests the “gold standard” because they’re considered to be more accurate than rapid tests and are being used by most provincial COVID-19 assessment centers.

He expects the rapid tests will generate some false positives, but not many.

“So far, there’s only been a few cases and they’ve all been confirmed by the PCRs,” he said.

Once the kinks are all worked out, Agrawal hopes to scale the system quickly, but he warns rapid antigen tests can’t work alone.

“They’re not going to solve (COVID) alone, but when we combine them with other things like PCRs and rolling out the vaccines, they’re just one piece of the puzzle, but a critical one.”

Tara Deschamps, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Students and staff at Gateway Christian School wore pink Wednesday in support of Pink Shirt Day, a worldwide anti-bullying initiative that was started in 2007. (Photo courtesy of Red Deer Public Schools)
Students, central Alberta community celebrate Pink Shirt Day

Mayor of Sylvan Lake Sean McIntyre supports anti-bullying cause

City of Red Deer has nearly doubled its active COVID-19 case count since Feb. 10 and has 75.6 per cent of the Central zone’s active cases. (File photo)
Another new high: Red Deer hits 574 active COVID-19 cases

Province reports 13 new COVID-19 deaths, 430 new cases

Contributed photo
Residents urged to participate in survey about Sylvan Lake Animal Control Bylaw

“Having as many people involved as possible, gives us the best shot at the most effective revision.”

Town of Sylvan Lake. File Photo
Sylvan Lake Town Council approve 2021 budget with no tax increase

Council approved the budget at its regular meeting on Feb. 22

Red Deer Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Anne Kirker is expected to sentence Satnam Singh Sandhu on Friday. Red Deer Advocate file photo
Updated: Sylvan Lake man pleads guilty to manslaughter for strangling wife in 2019

Kulvinder Sandhu was strangled and died in hospital several days later

Bookings for COVID-19 vaccines for people age 75 or older start Wednesday. (File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Updated: Delays for seniors booking for vaccine appointments

By 9:20 a.m. Wednesday, 4,500 seniors had booked their appointments

Minister Rick Wilson poses with Katie at the Boys and Girls Club of Wetaskiwin, both wearing her Pink Shirt Day design. Facebook/ Boys and Girls Club of Wetaskiwin.
Wetaskiwin Boys and Girls club Pink Shirt day design focuses on kindness

Katie with the Boys and Girls Club of Wetaskiwin created this year’s Pink Shirt Day design.

Black Press File Photo
Valentine’s Day shooting in Maskwacis leaves one male in hospital, one male in custody

19-year-old Francis Edward Nepoose from Maskwacis has been charged with attempted murder.

Sentencing delayed in the stabbing death of Samantha Sharpe, of Sunchild First Nation. (Red Deer Advocate file photo)
Central Alberta man not criminally responsible for killing his father in 2020: judge

Psychiatrist testified Nicholas Johnson was psychotic when he killed his father

The cover of “Hometown Asylum: A History and Memoir of Institutional Care.” (Submitted)
Ponoka-born author writes history of old mental hospital

“Hometown Asylum: A History and Memoir of Institutional Care” covers 1911 to 1971

Jacqueline Buffalo. (Photo submitted)
TikTok connects Indigenous women during pandemic

Maskwacis influencers share their stories

Todd Hirsch. (Image: screenshot)
ATB vice president gives financial forecast to Ponoka chamber

Predictions for reopening of the economy and recovery outlined

The 24/7 Integrated Response Hub is currently located in the Wetaskiwin Civic Building. Shaela Dansereau/ Pipestone Flyer.
Wetaskiwin business owners concerned over 24/7 Integrated Hub’s impact downtown

Downtown businesses have had loss of customers, threats, increased property damage and break-ins.

Most Read