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

Shuswap Search and Rescue volunteers were on Owlhead to retrieve a couple who called for help after one of their sleds became stuck on Tuesday, March 2, 2020. (Shuswap Search and Rescue/Facebook photo)
Shuswap Search and Rescue retrieve couple from Owlhead

Call for help made after sled became stuck

Shuswap Adventure Girl Sarah Tokarek has a particular passion for hiking trails around Blind Bay and the South Shuswap. (Contributed)
Shuswap mom helps others find their own outdoor adventures

Sarah Tokarek is Shuswap Adventure Girl, an online trail guide for the region

Protesters stood outside the Vernon Courts Thursday, March 4, 2021, as a Curtis Wayne Sagmoen matter came before the courts once again. (Brendan Shykora - Vernon Morning Star)
UPDATE: Sagmoen to make plea in two weeks for cop assault charge

The offence allegedly took place on Oct. 29 in Spallumcheen

A health worker holds a vial of AstraZeneca vaccine to be administered to members of the police at a COVID-19 vaccination center in Mainz, Germany, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. (Andreas Arnold/dpa via AP)
43 new COVID-19 cases in Interior Health

368 cases in the region remain active

Salmon Arm Council will be considering on March 10, 2021 approval of the placing of a notice warning of building bylaw infractions on a local property. (File photo)
City of Salmon Arm takes action on reported building bylaw infractions

If final approval given by council, notice will alert prospective buyers to outstanding issues

Health Minister Adrian Dix looks on as Dr. Bonnie Henry pauses for a moment as she gives her daily media briefing regarding COVID-19 for British Columbia in Victoria, B.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
7 additional deaths and 542 new COVID-19 cases in B.C.

Provincial health officials reported 18 new COVID-19 cases linked to variants of concern

The man currently being sought by Oliver RCMP in connection to an assault and robbery at the BC Cannabis Store in Oliver. If you know the identity of the man, the RCMP would like to know. (RCMP)
South Okanagan police looking for man accused in robbery and assault at pot shop

The man allegedly assaulted an employee at the BC Cannabis Store

(Government of B.C.)
School bus fees are being charged to all riders in the Vernon School District. (Courtesy photo)
Parents pressure Vernon school board to curb bus fee hike

More than 1,200 signatures on petition against $200 rider fees, to be discussed at board meeting

(Aman Parhar/Omineca Express)
COVID-19 exposures confirmed at two Kelowna schools

Pearson Road Elementary, Rutland Senior Secondary confirm one case of the virus at each school

Backcountry skiers are dwarfed by the mountains as they make their way along a mountain ridge near McGillivray Pass Lodge located in the southern Chilcotin Mountains of British Columbia, Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2012. Avalanche Canada has issued a special warning to people who use the backcountry in the mountains of western Alberta and eastern British Columbia. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Avalanche Canada special warning for mountains in western Alberta, eastern B.C.

Avalanche Canada also says everyone in a backcountry party needs essential rescue gear

(Courtesy of West Kelowna Fire Rescue)
West Kelowna structure fire results in death of pets, injured firefighter

Crews arrived at the Ponderosa Rd. home to find the rear of the building engulfed in flames

Lisa Jilg is pictured at her store with signs requesting the donation of items for those struggling with mental health challenges, and those experiencing homelessness. (Contributed)
‘He just wanted to be accepted’: Okanagan mother opens up about son’s fatal overdose

Judgment toward those with mental health challenges needs to stop, says West Kelowna mother

A protest has been planned for March 5, 2020 over Penticton council’s decision to reject an application from BC Housing to keep an emergency winter shelter open over a year longer than originally planned. (Jesse Day - Western News)
‘Bring your tent’: Protest planned in Penticton’s Gyro Park over winter shelter closure

Protesters plan to show council ‘what the result of their decision will look like’

Most Read