Diagnostic Testing

Canada HealthLabs provides 'green light' testing to help Canadians feel safe going to work, school, and traveling by:

  1. Implementing a strong testing approach through in-laboratory PCR (polymerase chain reaction), which is currently the most reliable testing solution, to quickly help the Canadian economy to a sustainable recovery.

  2. Creating a cross-Canada network of labs doing only diagnostic testing, not public health or clinical testing1, including six large labs and nine smaller labs, each with a turnaround time of approximately 24 hours.

  3. Leveraging the network to enable rapid evaluation and deployment of evolving technologies, such as new point of care tests.

  4. Deploying university and hospital research institutes to provide expertise and research capacity.

  5. Using self-collected oral/nasal swabs, which are more easily tolerated than nasopharyngeal swabs, but with similar sensitivity and specificity, to help increase daily volume of up to 800,000 tests across Canada , including 75,000 tests in Ontario, by early 2021 - at the best possible price for Canadians.

  6. Working with retail pharmacies to provide a national supply chain and retail solution entirely separate from the health care system, while negotiating large-scale contracts to achieve "first-in-line" status for materials2.

Canada HealthLabs is using the latest lab technologies - the Hamilton Robotics Microlab® VANTAGE Liquid Handling System® - to enable high speed testing with results available in approximately 12 hours. The VANTAGE provides precision engineering and performance to allow for a maximum number of lab samples processed in less time without risk of error or variability.

  1. Aggressively find, test, trace and isolate to beat COVID-19 (article)
  2. Active testing of groups at increased risk of acquiring SARS-CoV-2 in Canada: costs and human resource needs (article)

According to a recent survey, 94% of Canadians believe COVID-19 is far from over. More than half are afraid to return to work, and 60% say they will refuse to go to work if they feel it is unsafe.

Canada-wide COVID-19 testing is currently limited in capacity and focuses solely on COVID-19 diagnosis, providing little to support reopening the economy or helping Canadians feel safe.

The availability of mass testing is already an issue of particular concern according to a recent Canadian Medical Association survey of 2,500 physicians. The CMA survey revealed that 84% cite lack of testing as a major pain point in the battle against COVID-19.

This issue will be amplified as efforts to restart the economy get underway and millions of additional person-to-person contacts re-emerge in daily life. Current testing focuses on prioritizing and trying to meet health system needs under various states of lockdown. To reopen and then keep the economy open, we need new testing capacity.

Today's COVID-19 testing does not support diagnostic testing. It is not widely or cost-effectively accessible to Canadians, which is needed to provide safety and confidence to reopen businesses and help them stay open.

There is an urgent need to evaluate and translate novel testing technologies and solutions to better meet Canada's need to balance both health and the economy.

According to CBC News, Saliva testing for COVID-19 in Canada won't be a panacea for long lineups any time soon, and provinces try to increase testing as lineups grow in some jurisdictions.
Dr. Vivek Goel, Vice-Chair, Canada HealthLabs discusses COVID-19 testing on the University of Toronto’s podcast.

There are three primary uses of testing: diagnosis, surveillance, and reassurance.

  1. Diagnostic Testing
    This testing determines whether or not a symptomatic patient has COVID-19.

  2. Surveillance Testing
    This testing broadens access to testing for more individuals to determine whether or not some asymptomatic people (such as contacts of confirmed cases) have COVID-19. Access to this type of testing decreases as the diagnostic testing load increases because the same laboratories provide both test types.

  3. Diagnostic Testing
    This testing provides tests to employers, employees, students, travelers, and others who want to be reassured about their safety. This class of testing is only provided in Canada today at a high cost, by private-sector laboratories. These labs also provide both diagnostic and surveillance testing. No Canadian laboratories are currently able to provide diagnostic testing at the required scale.

Point of Care testing on small devices that can be put almost anywhere is not yet widely available. While there is great hope that these tests will be inexpensive and easy to use, many are currently in development and others have been proven to have lower accuracy. Making sure Point of Care tests are accurate is easy in a laboratory but much harder to do in large scale in the field.

  • CHL will provide a national platform for the evaluation and deployment of novel tests and technologies, such as antigen and antibody tests.

  • CHL will embrace and deploy any new test that challenges the speed, accuracy, and cost of PCR, should one emerge. Our research into new tests is enabled by our partnerships with many Canadian universities leading to impartial data-driven decisions.

  • CHL is test agnostic. We will study, validate, adopt and deploy any test technology that helps keep Canadians safe; and business, school, travel and borders open.

  • As a non-profit corporation, CHL is invested in results for all Canadians, and is not in competition with its peers.