“It’s certain that (the rapid tests) will accelerate our ability to learn the number of cases,” Laforest said.
But the machines still need to be calibrated and the rapid tests cannot be used in every situation because they are considered to be less accurate.
“They’re less sensitive and in some cases, for example in asymptomatic people, could give a false positive,” said Dr. Horacio Arruda, the provincial director of public health.
The high infection rate in the region has fuelled concern that the provincial plan to allow small gatherings over Christmas could lead to a catastrophic rise in infections. Arruda said the Christmas plan is dependant on Quebecers’ abilities to reduce their contacts and slow the spread of the virus before the holidays.
The region counted 120 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, a day when Quebec tallied 1,154. That rate is disturbing to provincial health officials because Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean has accounted for nearly 10 per cent of all cases in the province over the past week, but is home to just 276,000 residents, less than 4 per cent of the total Quebec population.
The infections are stressing the health system, and officials fear they could get worse because outbreaks have broken out at several seniors’ homes, where residents are more likely to experience complications and require medical care. Hospitals in the area are already stretched thin with 64 people hospitalized with the virus as of Friday and five in intensive care.
Dr. Donald Aubin, the regional public health director, told the Montreal Gazette this week that he and his colleagues had committed to an aggressive contact tracing strategy to try to stop the community spread of the virus.
The testing and contact-tracing plan, he said, was a winning strategy, but it required resources. So a stream of reinforcement contact tracers from elsewhere in Quebec and from government departments outside of public health were lending a hand.
In addition to the new contact tracers, teams from the Canadian Red Cross were also helping in long-term care homes and in seniors’ residences. Two doctors who are specialists in public health are also travelling to the region to help the officials plan their responses.
But ultimately, Arruda said, until there is a widely available vaccine, there is no magic bullet that will stop the infection. All the rapid testing, contact tracing and business closures in the world are still less effective than just staying away from other people.
“Every effort you make to reduce your contacts will stop the virus from spreading,” Arruda said. “People can still spread the virus when they have no symptoms. It could be your brother-in-law, your-sister-in-law, etc. … With the measures we have in place, if they were respected, we would be able to beat it.”
QUEBEC — Facing a dangerously high rate of infection, officials in the Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean region will soon be using rapid COVID-19 tests to attempt to slow the spread of the infection.
The tests, which were acquired by the federal government in October, offer an additional tool for local authorities to use to fight the infection. The rapid test machine returns a result in minutes, instead of requiring a laboratory to confirm a positive or negative result, a process which often takes days.
And in Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean, tests are still being sent to Montreal for lab confirmation, a city hundreds of kilometres away.
“We’re one of the first regions to have these tests, which were anticipated for so long,” said Andrée Laforest, the member of the National Assembly who represents Chicoutimi, which is in the Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean, at a remote news conference on Friday.
She called the situation in the region “very serious,” describing an infection rate so high that one in 250 people is infected with the virus, with possibly more asymptomatic, or not yet symptomatic, in the community.