UBC rapid testing pilot project detects COVID-19 cases in asymptomatic people
VANCOUVER -- A UBC pilot project using rapid testing to screen for COVID-19 ended up detecting some positive cases in students who didn’t have symptoms. The university is now looking at continuing the project, and it’s not the only organization thinking of testing out the speedier screening technology.
Just over 1,000 students on the UBC campus volunteered to get tested as part of the pilot project, which ran from Feb. 9 to April 23. UBC School of Nursing Professor Sabrina Wong said most lived in student residences, none of them were reporting symptoms, and some came back multiple times.
“They came in because they were worried about testing to protect themselves, and then testing to protect others around them,” she said. “They were really trying to live up to their responsibility and accountability as citizens.”
The test involves taking a nasal swab, which doesn’t go as deep as the nasalpharyngeal swab for the standard diagnostic COVID-19 test. Wong said the rapid test is simply meant for screening, and not long after the swab, there’s an answer.
“Fifteen minutes later, you get your results back,” she said. “So it’s quite fast.”
In total, more than 3,500 rapid tests were done. Twenty-five asymptomatic students ended up testing positive for COVID-19.
Once detected on the rapid test, a diagnostic test was also carried out to confirm the results.
“There wasn’t very many cases and the cases that we did find, we were able to break chains of transmission earlier,” Wong said. “We did get a few false positives, and we expected to see that, because there is low prevalence anyways of COVID-19 in the population that we were testing.”
Wong said having results means more policy decisions could be made about using rapid testing in B.C. She said the technology could also be useful in a number of settings, including concerts, tournaments, conferences and larger workplaces where there is inherent risk.
“That could be migrant farm workers who live in a congregate housing site, tree-planting sites, mining sites,” she said. “Other places would include those where proper physical distancing is not really possible, like around food processing plants.”
Simon Fraser University confirmed to CTV News Vancouver it is also looking at a rapid testing pilot on campus, although the details aren’t finalized just yet. The project is being considered for the upcoming summer term.
In an emailed statement, UBC’s Safety and Risk Services executive director Rae Ann Aldridge said:
“We are in the process of evaluating the potential for continuing the rapid screening pilot this summer. We will update our community in the weeks to come.”
Wong called the pilot project a “success story.”
“What we found is it’s possible to use rapid antigen testing in an asymptomatic population of people who are living in congregate housing,” she said. “The feedback that we got from the people that were coming was that it was fast, it was easy, not painful, not uncomfortable, and it was free. So it was quite accessible.”