With workplace outbreaks forcing businesses to close and employees to quarantine, conducting on-site rapid testing may help detect asymptomatic employees early and reduce the risk of a shutdown. "While testing is not an effective preventive measure all on its own," says Wagish Yajaman, WSPS' Manager, Specialty Services, "it could be one more useful tool in our toolbox."
We need all the tools we can find. As of May 8, 24% of COVID-19 cases in Ontario have been workplace related.*
These tests are already in use at health care facilities, pharmacies, grocery stores, schools, warehouses, and other essential workplaces where people must work in close proximity to each other. If you're considering on-site rapid testing of your employees, here's what you need to know.
What is on-site rapid testing?
On-site rapid testing uses a nasal or combination nasal and throat swab to check for the presence of protein fragments, known as antigens, from the COVID-19 virus. These antigen tests are conducted for screening purposes, not diagnostic. Results are available on-site within 15 to 20 minutes. Any positive results must be confirmed through laboratory-based testing.
How do I know if my workplace is eligible to conduct rapid antigen testing?
Testing is available from a number of sources, including
- the provincial government has made testing available to any essential business that is allowed to be open and requires staff to work on-site under its Provincial Antigen Screening Program. On May 12, the government launched a new rapid testing portal for interested businesses to register. Workplaces that qualify will receive test kits at no cost, depending on availability. Participation in the program comes with responsibilities, which are set out in COVID-19 Guidance: Considerations for Privately Initiated Testing.
- The CDL Rapid Screening Consortium is a non-profit organization that has developed a process for implementing rapid antigen screening at scale in Canada. The consortium consists of 12 corporate members: Air Canada, CPPIB, Genpact, Loblaw, Magna, MDA, MLSE, Nutrien, Rogers Communications, Scotiabank, Shoppers Drug Mart and Suncor Energy. Its goal is to help bring the Canadian economy back to normal by providing a screening system and making it widely available. Learn more about the CDL Rapid Screening Consortium.
- private sector businesses, such as commercial laboratories.
How are these tests different from tests at assessment centres and labs?
Assessment centres and labs conduct PCR (polymerase chain reaction) testing, which also relies on a nasal or throat swab. PCR tests are more accurate than rapid antigen tests but are also more costly and time-consuming. PCR test swabs must be analyzed in a laboratory. Results can take several days.
What does my workplace need to know if it is considering on-site testing?
- The workplace will likely have to cover on-site operating costs (PPE, staffing, waste disposal, etc.).
- Testing must be conducted by health professionals or other trained individuals.
- Only testing devices available in Ontario as per the COVID-19 Testing Guidance may be used.
- The workplace must be free of a suspected or confirmed outbreak.
- If employees are at continued risk of infection, the workplace may wish to conduct on-site testing more than once.
What are some rapid antigen testing best practices?
Here's a sampling of best practices from workplaces that have already participated in rapid antigen testing:
- Continue assessing COVID-19 transmission hazards and applying prevention strategies. Treat testing as a form of screening. It is not considered an effective preventive measure on its own, and does not replace prevention strategies, including developing a mandatory COVID-19 safety plan to minimize the risk of transmission.
- Dedicate an overall project champion for your organization, and a key site coordinator if you have more than one site.
- Develop testing policies and procedures that are consistent with your existing policies and support your organizational values.
- Communicate with employees consistently before, during and after testing. Possible topics to cover off: how the testing works, why it's important, how it will be conducted, what happens with the results, and what happens if an employee tests positive.
- Take preventive steps to protect the mental health of employees who test positive or who decline to be tested.
* Table 7, Number of public health unit declared COVID-19 outbreaks by setting type: Ontario, Public Health Ontario Weekly Epidemiological Summary, ending April 24, 2021; https://www.publichealthontario.ca/-/media/documents/ncov/epi/covid-19-weekly-epi-summary-report.pdf?la=en
The information in this article is accurate as of its publication date.