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

(Black Press file photo)
Summerland’s solar project meets council priorities

Project an investment in electric utility infrastructure

A man wearing a mask against coronavirus walks past an NHS advertisement about COVID-19 in London, Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2021. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
92 new COVID-19 cases, no new deaths: Interior Health

The region is reporting 92 cases after the weekend

The Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen has implemented extended hours at four landfills, beginning March 1, 2020. (Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen photo)
Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen extends landfill hours

Summer hours at four facility take effect March 1, 2021.

Island Health chief medical officer Dr. Richard Stanwick receives a first dose of Pfizer vaccine, Dec. 22, 2020. (B.C. government)
COVID-19: B.C. seniors aged 90+ can start to sign up for vaccination on March 8

Long-term care residents protected by shots already given

(Contributed)
March 1 snow measurement at Summerland Reservoir above normal

Isintok Lake snow measurements near historical average

A health-care worker looks at a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at the Palais de Congress site as Quebec begins mass vaccinations based on age across the province, Monday, March 1, 2021 in Montreal.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Nearly 1 million COVID-19 vaccine doses arriving in Canada this week: Anand

Anita Anand says she’s received assurances from the vaccine manufacturer

(Black Press file photo)
Agassiz boy, 11, dies from ‘extensive injuries’: Homicide team

Agassiz RCMP were called out Friday to assist with a child in medical distress

Dr. Amit Desai of St. Francis Hospital receives a COVID-19 vaccine on Dec. 17. (Photo courtesy of CHI Franciscan)
B.C. has now vaccinated more people from COVID-19 than total confirmed cases

B.C. has reached a milestone, vaccinating roughly 1.6% of its population from the coronavirus

BC Housing has proposed that Victory Church shelter at 352 Winnipeg Street in Penticton be extended until March 31, 2022. It was originally intended to be a shelter April 1, 2021. (Jesse Day - Western News)
Concerned residents, business owners launch petition against Penticton homeless shelter

BC Housing wants to extend the ‘temporary’ Victory Church shelter for one year

Summerhill Pyramid Winery. (Contributed)
Fear of ‘hotel in a vineyard’ prompts Kelowna council to defer culinary school decision

City council needs assurance the educational facility proposed at Summerhill Winery will be used as stated

Deanna Hyland, Facebook.
Near-miss on Highway 97 in Kelowna

Woman warns other drivers after almost colliding with a truck on Highway 97

Nanaimo RCMP are looking for a suspect who smashed the window of an adult toy store and made off with more than $1,200 in merchandise. (File photo)
Vancouver Island sex shop out $1,200 in merchandise after suspect steals ‘colossal’ product

Suspect smashed window of Nanaimo store, cutting himself in the process

Riverside Calvary Church in Walnut Grove. (Langley Advance Times file)
B.C. is ‘stereotyping’ churches as riskier for COVID than other spaces, lawyer argues

Judge said that freedom of expression, religion are not at issue in the case

B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell gets acquainted with Tsawwassen First Nation Chief Kim Baird’s 10-month-old daughter Sophia, husband Steve and four-year-old Amy at the B.C. legislature before a ceremony to endorse the Tsawwassen Treaty, Oct. 15, 2007. (Sharon Tiffin/Black Press)
Indigenous consent comes first and last for B.C. industrial projects

Environment minister can still approve permits without consent

Most Read