Amid growing calls to make COVID-19 rapid antigen tests widely available, a Twitter account started by a Kitchener, Ont.-based doctor aims to help connect Canadians with the difficult-to-find tests while advocating for their use.
COVID Test Finders, created by Dr. Dalia Hasan three months ago, acts like the popular Vaccine Hunters Twitter account which aimed to inform people when a vaccine clinic near them was opening up or had space available.
Hasan and her team of volunteers work to source information about where free rapid testing is available and tweet out information about where to obtain the tests – or so is the hope.
“We tried to create our platform to amplify free rapid test programs and initiatives and we’ve barely had any material to amplify,” Hasan told CTV News Channel Thursday.
Across the country, provinces have taken a number of different approaches when it comes to the rollout of rapid antigen tests. While they have mostly been used in high-risk settings such as long-term care homes, or at schools and businesses, many have gone unused.
While PCR tests are still widely considered the “gold standard” in Canada, because the samples from PCR tests must be sent to laboratories for processing, it can take days to receive results.
Rapid tests, on the other hand, provide results in as little as 15 minutes, providing a practical use case for on-site testing.
“That’s a critical timeframe to capitalize [on]. That means in 15 minutes you might know you have COVID and you have to go isolate, and that breaks the chain of transmission,” Hasan said.
“If you get a PCR test when you’re in that period of being contagious, those results take up to three days to get back.”
With a new surge in cases in several provinces and concerns regarding the Omicron variant growing, Hasan says she is hearing growing calls from people of all ages and risk factors to make the rapid tests more widely available.
“I have no political agenda, I have no affiliations with any political party. This is purely an initiative to do a public service for the health of Canadians,” she said.
Data released by the federal government says that, as of Nov. 30, a total of 94,648,718 rapid antigen tests had been received by the country. Of those, a total of 79,746,088 had been shipped to the provinces and territories.
To date, 14,759,881 rapid tests have been reported as used.
This comes amid allegations that rapid tests are sitting unused on pharmacy shelves in Ontario and growing public outrage that the tests can still cost up to $40 for those who are able to get their hands on them.
Hasan and her team have now turned their account into a grassroots campaign, titled “Free the RATs [Rapid Antigen Tests],” and are now crowdsourcing money to buy rapid tests that will be donated to those who need them most.
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