If your employees work out of a physical workplace, it is critical that you follow all public health measures to ensure a COVID-secure work environment.
In addition to existing measures, such as physical distancing, masking, active screening, vaccination, rapid testing is another useful screening tool you may want to consider using in your workplace.
The federal and some provincial governments are offering free rapid tests to eligible businesses, organizations, and not-for-profits.
What are rapid tests?
Any diagnostic testing that doesn’t happen in a laboratory is called Point-of-Care (POC) testing.
POC COVID-19 rapid tests are portable and ideal to screen people who show no symptoms. Unlike the lab-based polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test results that take 24 to 48 hours, POC rapid test results are available typically within 15 to 20 minutes.
But POC tests are less sensitive at detecting COVID-19 infection compared to PCR tests. They may, at times, show false negatives and false positives.
This is why a positive rapid antigen test result is counted as a preliminary positive. If someone gets a positive rapid test result, they should (isolate and) seek a PCR test administered by the local public health authority within 48 hours to confirm.
If PCR tests are still needed to confirm the positive diagnosis, then why do rapid tests at all?
Rapid testing has many benefits.
Rapid tests are safe to administer and can be done with just a nasal swab collection. No deep-penetrating nasopharyngeal swab, like in PCR tests, is needed.
The speed factor in producing results makes rapid tests particularly useful in quickly identifying asymptomatic carriers and preventing workplace outbreaks.
As per Health Canada reports (dated July 6, 2021), rapid tests helped detect and stop the transmission of over 3,300 presumptive positive COVID-19 cases in Canada.
Rapid tests should be used as an additional screening tool, along with all other recommended infection prevention and control measures.
Your employees must continue to follow all health and safety measures even if their test results are negative.
What are some things to keep in mind while conducting rapid tests?
If you decide to implement rapid antigen testing as an additional screening tool, you should:
- Inform your staff about the new measure, how it works, its benefits and limitations and how you’ll be administering it.
- Follow privacy laws applicable in your province and maintain confidentiality on test results. Decide on your policy for storing the results securely, the duration for which you’ll keep records, and who’ll have access to the records. You may want to consult with your local public health authority for guidelines on keeping and destroying documentation.
- Rapid tests should only be used on asymptomatic individuals who clear the initial standard screening in the workplace. They should not be used to test symptomatic people, or those who have had close contact with known positive cases. These individuals should visit an assessment centre for testing.
- Remember that the rapid test results are not final and have to be confirmed with more accurate tests conducted by your local public health authority.
- Also, remember and remind your staff that workplace health and safety controls must be followed even if they have tested negative for COVID-19.
- Provide support to staff who test positive. Communicate sick leave policies and share information on available resources, such as government financial support.
- You don’t need to test employees who have had COVID-19 within the last 3 months as they may get a false positive result.
- Depending on the rules set in your province, rapid testing can be conducted by either a health care professional or an individual trained to perform the test correctly.
- Ensure that the testing takes place in a well-ventilated space and the tester is wearing suitable personal protective equipment (PPE). Remember to clean and disinfect surfaces between users.
What to do if someone tests presumptive positive on a rapid test?
When an employee tests positive on a rapid test, you should:
- Ask them to follow up with a laboratory-based PCR test administered by your local public health authority (ideally within 48 hours)
- Send the worker home to isolate as they wait for the lab-based PCR test result.
- Check if your province requires reporting a preliminary positive result and follow the reporting requirements.
- If a rapid test result is neither negative nor positive, it is considered invalid. The employee should either take the test again immediately or go for a lab-based PCR test administered by their local public health authority.
How to apply for free rapid test kits?
You can apply for rapid test kits either through the federal or provincial government websites. Read more on the provincial government rapid testing programs and guidelines here: Ontario, Alberta, British Columbia.
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