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

Community Foundation North Okanagan is now accepting applications for its annual Smart and Caring Community Grants program. (CFNO photo)
Cash available for North Okanagan non-profits

Community Foundation North Okanagan seeks applicants for its annual Smart and Caring Grants program

The current B.C. Men’s curling champions, Rick Sawatsky (Vernon and now living and working in Kelowna, from left), Andrew Nerpin (Kelowna), Jim Cotter (Vernon) and Steve Laycock (Saskatoon), have yet to find the win column at the 2021 Tim Hortons Brier in Calgary. (Black Press - file photo)
B.C. looking for Brier victory

Team B.C. falls to 0-2 Sunday, March 7, with 10-7 loss to Wild Card 1 entry from Manitoba

Forty-seven vaccination clinics will open across Interior Health beginning March 15. (Canadian Press)
48 COVID-19 vaccine clinics to open across Interior Health

Select groups can book appointments starting Monday

Forty-seven vaccination clinics will open across Interior Health beginning March 15. (Canadian Press)
48 COVID-19 vaccine clinics to open across Interior Health

Select groups can book appointments starting Monday

Coldstream’s Kalamalka Secondary has teamed up with Globox on a fundraising raffle for its graduating class of 2021. (Photo supplied)
Coldstream secondary school grads glowing over fundraiser

Globox giving away five gift boxes worth about $6,000 in raffle, proceeds to Kal’s Class of ‘21

Elvira D’Angelo, 92, waits to receive her COVID-19 vaccination shot at a clinic in Montreal, Sunday, March 7, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
‘It’s been a good week’: Tam hopeful on vaccines as pandemic anniversary nears

Tam says the addition of two new vaccines will help Canadians get immunized faster

Const. Allan Young. Photo: Abbotsford Police Department
Manslaughter charge laid in Nelson death of Abbotsford police officer

Allan Young died after an incident in downtown Nelson last summer

Kelowna General Hospital (File photo)
One of two Kelowna General Hospital COVID-19 outbreaks declared over

One outbreak declared over after two deaths, seven cases; another outbreak remains ongoing in the hospital

Cottonwoods Care Home in Kelowna. (Google Maps)
COVID-19 outbreak declared at Kelowna care home after 12 cases noted

Two staff members and 10 residents at Cottonwoods Care Centre have tested positive for COVID-19

There is no true picture of how many youth in Penticton are experiencing housing instability or true homelessness. The Foundry and the city of Penticton are trying to find that out.
How many youth are experiencing homelessness in Penticton?

Foundry Penticton and the City have partnered on a youth survey open until March 13

Chelsea Ishizuka was borned and raised in Penticton but has now moved to Japan. When she found out there was a popular restaurant there named after Penticton, she had to go check it out. Here she is with the owner (right). (Facebook)
Popular restaurant in Japan named after city of Penticton

A Pentictonite now living in Tokyo discovered the eatery and the history behind its name

(The Canadian Press)
‘Worse than Sept. 11, SARS and financial crisis combined’: Tourism industry in crisis

Travel services saw the biggest drop in active businesses with 31 per cent fewer firms operating

Pictures and notes in from friends and classmates make up a memorial in support and memory of Aubrey Berry, 4, and her sister Chloe, 6, during a vigil held at Willows Beach in Oak Bay, B.C., on December 30, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Mother of slain daughters supports recent changes to Canada’s Divorce Act

Sarah Cotton-Elliott said she believed her children took a back seat to arranging equal parenting

Most Read