The Diasora Simplexa unit will soon be the third type of rapid testing device the NWT will deploy in its response to the Covid-19 pandemic, as Dr. Sarah Cook, outgoing territorial medical director, told reporters on Wednesday.

Four Simplexa devices, which can provide Covid test results in less than 24 hours are currently being installed by technicians at Stanton Territorial Hospital in Yellowknife, but Cook said it wasn’t yet known exactly when they will become operational.

Cook’s announcement followed a GNWT press release earlier on Wednesday that said testing capacity is expected to increase to 500 rapid, in-territory tests per week.

Territorial medical director Sarah Cook (left) and chief public health officer Kami Kandola spoke with reporters about the heightened Covid-19 testing capacity during a teleconference on Wednesday. NNSL file photo

The machines will join the BioFire rapid testing device – that gives results in a similar time as Simplexa – and the GeneXpert unit, which can give results in one hour. Both are currently operational at Stanton. The BioFire unit can process 48 tests per day. There is also one GeneXpert in use in Inuvik.

Five medical laboratory technicians are working in rapid testing, and one in Inuvik, said Office of the Chief Public Health Officer Mike Westwick. One technician is currently being trained to join the team, and one more is expected to arrive in a few weeks.

The GeneXpert has been reserved for high-priority cases due to a worldwide shortage of capacity, Cook said.

“(They include) people who are critically ill and need to know right away; people from closed facilities like long-term care facilities or corrections facilities where there is a really high rate of transmission and where there could be a big impact throughout the facility; people who aren’t able to effectively self-isolate (such as) people who might not have homes and people coming from remote communities where we have very limited resources and ability to deal with an outbreak of Covid,” she said.

But because of the growing capacity of rapid testing, Cook said she hopes they won’t have to prioritize those cases for the GeneXpert anymore in the coming weeks and can conduct more and more testing rapidly.

“We’re in the process of finalizing what that prioritization process will look like. We expect that over the coming weeks to couple of months we’ll be ramping up (testing) even further.”

Testing capacity has received another boost after the NWT began sending test swabs to DynaLife laboratories in Alberta, where the the expected turnaround time is now 48 hours, Cook said.

“We have to add on the transportation time but either way, whether the swab is processed in the NWT or in Alberta we should see a significant improvement in turnaround time.”

It typically takes one week for swab results to be processed at the Alberta Precision Laboratories, the GNWT said.

Testing capacity and travel restrictions

Addressing the issue as to whether heightened testing capacity could reduce the required quarantine times for people entering the NWT, chief public health officer Dr. Kami Kandola, who also was in the tele-conference with reporters, said all options were being considered.

“We’re doing modelling around testing at strategic intervals,” she said. “One thing with testing is that if you test people with no symptoms there is a higher false negative rate, which means people could have the virus and not detect it. One way to get around that is to be keep testing.”

Kandola further explained that she approaches the possibility of loosening travel restrictions through the “four pillars” of mass surveillance (such as testing wastewater for Covid), rapid testing, targeted screening and timely contact tracing.

“We’ve achieved the first and the second. So the next priority on the list is looking at targeted screening and modelling its impact on travel restrictions. That will be taking place in a few weeks. I can’t provide further details at this moment.”

Blair McBride

Blair McBride covers the Legislative Assembly, business and education. Before coming to Yellowknife he worked as a journalist in British Columbia, Thailand and Ontario. He studied journalism at Western...

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