WINNIPEG – Teachers in Winnipeg are next in line to get quick tests for COVID-19, Manitoba’s Prime Minister Brian Pallister announced Thursday.
After the two-week period of distance learning, a pilot project will start in the new year.
“Our government will prioritize teachers in the next wave of dedicated COVID-19 rapid testing,” Pallister told a media conference.
Approved by Health Canada in late September, the Hyris bCUBE is a portable tabletop test device.
It is manufactured in Italy and Germany by a UK company and distributed by a Guelph, Ont. company called Songbird Life Science.
Using a nasal swab, it can produce a COVID-19 result in 90 minutes with 95 percent accuracy, even in asymptomatic wearers.
Pallister said the provincial government has spent $ 40 million on the technology to run 45,000 tests per month for the next year.
Winnipeg teachers will be the first in Manitoba to get tested with the bCUBE as part of a pilot project starting in January, following the two-week distance learning period.
Plans to expand testing to teachers outside Winnipeg and exact details on the testing process are expected shortly, but so far the Manitoba Teachers’ Society is happy with the move.
“What we want is to try to minimize the time the teacher is absent from class,” said James Bedford, president of the teachers’ association.
Bedford thinks access to rapid results will help minimize teacher absences after known exposures in school or when teachers have symptoms. But he said teachers are still concerned about the time it will take public health to notify them of cases and possible exposures.
“Great for quick testing, great for having fast turnaround and results, but we also need to know quickly when to go for a test,” said Bedford.
The prime minister said the province will have the capacity to test every teacher and education support staff member twice a month until the end of the school year, if necessary.
The question is when the technology will be used for staff and residents in care homes who have been hit hard by COVID-19.
A total of 64 outbreaks were reported on December 2, of which 16 are over and 48 are still active. So far, 443 staff have tested positive, while 862 cases have been identified in residents with 162 deaths.
“I certainly wouldn’t want teachers not being tested,” said Jan Legeros, executive director of the Long Term and Continuing Care Association of Manitoba. “But I do think the personal care settings are certainly badly needed.”
“We have been asking for this for months. We know it works, we have seen in other (areas) where they have introduced it that it really helps because you can cohort and isolate much faster based on the results of the test. “
Winnipeg-based epidemiologist Cynthia Carr said the tests would be well suited for personal care homes.
“You don’t just have the residents who are vulnerable, that’s not the only factor,” Carr said. “We must remember that within a personal care home setting there may be residents who go back and forth to acute care settings.”
Carr will look to see how well the pilot works in identifying cases in schools.
“This is a population and a group that we want as much as possible, for social welfare and educational performance, to keep in school,” Carr said. “So this particular test, because it is a Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test with that better sensitivity and specificity to identify people who are asymptomatic, this would be the population to try that out.”
Carr said it could also help health officials better understand how the virus is spreading.
“It seems that there is a low number of positive tests within schools,” Carr said. “We are still learning about the science of the disease among students, so even if only teachers are involved, we are still learning about: Younger people transmit the virus well or not at all, and of course the teacher is in the age group where we do show symptoms, we get sick. “
Asked why teachers are prioritized for rapid tests, provincial chief public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin, hinted that other projects are also in the works.
“This is just one of the many steps we are taking,” said Roussin.
The top physician suggested they look at a number of things, including more routine tests in care homes.
The prime minister said the rapid tests will not be conducted on students.
The Manitoba Teachers’ Society hopes the province will find a way to conduct asymptomatic tests among students.