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OPINION: This self-administered COVID-19 test should be available to all Canadians

It's like a pregnancy test, and it costs $31
Rapid Response COVID-19 test kit. Photo BTNX

Burnaby physician Dr. Nima Sakian is sounding the alarm over what he sees as an unnecessary delay in getting broader testing for COVID-19, when there are multiple testing products that could be made widely available right now.

Distributed by a company called BTNX, the Rapid Response COVID-19 Test Cassette is described by its distributor as a "rapid, qualitative test for the detection of anti-SARS-CoV-2 IgM and anti-SARS-CoV-2 IgG in human whole blood, serum, or plasm samples, to aid in the diagnosis of COVID-19."

Simply put, it's a self-administered test that's much like a pregnancy test, but instead of urine you put a drop of your blood on it.

You see the results in 15 minutes.

If one line shows up that means you're (probably) negative for COVID-19, two or three means you're positive, and it's correct 95% of the time.

Each test costs $31, which Dr Sakian thinks is a small price to pay to get a better picture of the crisis in Canada.

The distributor of the test is ready to ship them today, but Health Canada has yet to approve the product. It's been approved in the USA under the FDA's Emergency Use Authorization and is currently shipping to doctors there.

dr-nima-sakianDr. Nima Sakian. Photo provided.

Dr. Sakian believes that we are grossly undertesting in Canada, and that the rate of infection is likely four to five times what Bonnie Henry is reporting daily.

He explains that the reason behind doing widespread testing is "Very basic stuff. We're not really managing the outbreak if we don't [increase the amount of testing being done]."

"The sooner we know someone is positive or negative, then we can move the infection control and quarantine the people, or ask them to go back to work if they're negative."

As he explains it, a lot of carriers of the virus are asymptomatic, and the only people doctors like him are testing are ones who are "really sick".

He uses the example of care homes being epicentres of the virus right now; if people knew they were ill they most definitely wouldn't visit their elderly relatives who are in care.

If Health Canada does decide to approve the use of these types of kits in Canada, doctors like Sakian would still have to go to the College of Physicians and get their approval to be able to sell them to patients if they wanted to administer them themselves.

I hear Dr. Sakian's message loud and clear: my son was tested for COVID-19 during the beginning of the outbreak, and we waited a full 12 days to get his results back. The 811 phone line was perpetually busy, and the phone number we were given took days to call us back.

Thankfully my son's test came back negative for COVID-19 (and positive for Influenza B), but I would have given anything to know right away for our peace of mind, or that he be counted if he was positive.

I would have paid $31 to test each of my family members and get the result back in 15 minutes, and I know most of you would do the same.

During these extreme circumstances it's my hope that the debate of private versus public healthcare might take a back seat for a moment, and effectively save lives during this pandemic.