'Fill the gap': Sask. student creates tool to track rapid test results, account for unreported COVID-19 cases
Saskatchewan’s recorded COVID-19 cases only reflect the positive results confirmed through a PCR test. However, one epidemiologist says this practice leaves too many cases unreported.
The province now recommends people who are asymptomatic or those with mild symptoms opt for a rapid antigen test rather than a PCR test, in an effort to preserve testing capacity.
PCR tests are still recommended for those who are at greater risk of infection or experiencing severe symptoms.
Epidemiologist Dr. Nazeem Muhajarine says the province is creating a “big gap” in its data by not keeping a formal record of rapid antigen test results. He adds that gap is “irretrievable” once the time has passed, as it is impossible to backdate all those cases.
“Without incidents and prevalence that are accurate, we know nothing about disease and the spread of a disease,” Muhajarine said.
Muhajarine says case numbers are a “fundamental” indicator for epidemiology, helping understand the scale of the spread. They can also trigger further investigation into new variants and help people better understand the “societal-wide burden” of the disease.
In certain provinces like Ontario, Muhajarine estimates there are about two or three unreported cases of COVID-19 for every one positive PCR test result.
However, he says it is unclear exactly how many cases in Saskatchewan are unreported.
“We have lots of unknowns with rapid antigen tests, which is why we have little to no idea how much of an undercounting is going on at this point in time,” Muhajarine said.
This is where Noah Little comes in.
The University of Saskatchewan student created an online COVID-19 tracker at the start of the pandemic. It tracks case numbers, vaccinations and hospitalizations across Canada based on regions.
Since Little teamed up with Muhajarine, it now tracks self-reported rapid antigen test results.
“The whole idea of this is to fill the gap in official reporting,” Little said.
“It’s not to replace the official case counts, but it’s to really supplement that and maybe try to catch some of these cases that we’re missing with such limited testing.”
Since the launch of the new tracker, Little says more than 6,000 people have reported their rapid antigen test results, with about 2,000 coming from Saskatchewan.
The feature tracks positive, negative and invalid test results. All people have to do is enter their result, their age, the first three characters of their postal code and the date of the test.
“We collect very limited data just to be protected on that privacy front,” Little said.
Little says the biggest barrier is access to both the internet and rapid tests. However, if people get passed that, it will only take about 20 seconds to complete the entry.
“At the end of the day it’s more and more valuable the more and more people actually use it,” Little said.
New Brunswick recently started reporting rapid antigen test results on its government dashboard. Saskatchewan’s chief medical health office says that is something the government could look at doing in the future.
According to Dr. Saqib Shahah, the province’s cases that are confirmed through PCR testing represent about 20 to 30 per cent of all cases.
Shahab says at any given time two to three per cent of Saskatchewan’s population could have COVID-19, which is roughly 20,000 to 30,000 people.
As a result, Shahab says we can no longer rely on testing numbers and daily new cases as indicators.
“This is a very different phase of the pandemic. We will have to rely more on the lagging indicator of hospitalizations,” he said.
No matter how many extra resources are deployed to PCR testing sites, Shahab says it will not be able to keep up with demand.
He encourages those who test positive on a rapid antigen test to report it online.
“I think that could be an additional tool. Obviously it’s not going to be complete but it does give you a sense of what’s happening,” he said.
Muhajarine would like to see the government use an official tracking system for rapid tests.
Rapid antigen tests play an important role screening and self-monitoring, but Muhajarine says “we are asking it to do more that what we had built it to do.”
Ideally, he says rapid tests will only temporarily be used for diagnosis, as the province tries to limit the strain on testing capacity due to Omicron.
Once this wave passes, he would like to see PCR testing available for everyone.
Regina Top Stories
CTVNews.ca Top Stories
With Quebec confirming an additional 10 cases of monkeypox identified in the province, the Public Health Agency of Canada says they are monitoring a total of 15 cases across the country.
Crews are working to restore power to more than 150,000 Ontario customers who are still without hydro after a deadly storm swept through the province on Saturday.
Bill 96, the provincial government's controversial legislation aimed at protecting the French language in Quebec, has been adopted in the National Assembly.
Supermodel Kate Moss, a former girlfriend of Johnny Depp, denied Wednesday that she had ever been pushed or assaulted by Depp during the course of their relationship.
Connecticut U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, who came to Congress representing Sandy Hook, begged his colleagues to finally pass legislation addressing the nation's gun violence problem as the latest school shooting unfolded Tuesday in Uvalde, Texas.
Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr refused to talk about basketball at a pre-game news conference on Tuesday and instead called for stricter gun control after the killing of at least 18 children and an adult in a Texas school shooting.
Russia's invasion of Ukraine may have marked the start of "a third world war," and Russian President Vladimir Putin must be defeated "as soon as possible" if the world wants to preserve civilization, said billionaire and philanthropist George Soros.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and other senior officials bear responsibility for a culture of rule-breaking that resulted in several parties that breached the U.K.'s COVID-19 lockdown rules, a report into the events said Wednesday.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is scheduled to make a long-term care announcement today in Saskatoon.
Saskatoon police are searching for a second suspect in connection to a fatal shooting in the city's Nutana neighbourhood.
Officers with the Manitoba RCMP are investigating after a 75-year-old man was found dead in the water.
Roads in Winnipeg’s West End are now reopened following an early morning crash on Wednesday.
Calgary is 0-9 when trailing a series 3-1, while in the history of the NHL teams are 296-31 in that sticky situation. Don't tell that to the Flames players, though.
The fruitful harvest of a local woman's large garden years back has blossomed into an ongoing effort to feed Albertans in need, but now she's in need of a little help.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored his second goal of the night with 3:27 left in regulation as the Edmonton Oilers defeated the Calgary Flames 5-3 on Tuesday to take a 3-1 lead in the teams' second-round playoff series.
A man accused of killing two Métis hunters on a rural Alberta road is scheduled to testify today.
Toronto Public Health says there are two new suspected cases of monkeypox in the city, as well as one probable case of the virus that's under investigation.
Hospitalizations related to COVID-19 in Ontario are back up to 1,082 as the number of patients in the ICU increases slightly to 160.
Winds in the destructive storm that hit Ottawa and the region on Saturday reached 190 kilometres per hour in some areas, researchers say.
An Ottawa judge has decided that 'Freedom Convoy' organizer Tamara Lich will remain released on bail while awaiting trial.
B.C.'s Human Rights Tribunal has ordered a strata to pay a senior thousands of dollars and build a tram to accommodate the man who can't climb the 102 stairs leading from his home.
Heavy traffic through Vancouver's Stanley Park and along West Georgia Street over the Victoria Day long weekend has reignited debate over a separated bike lane.
Multiple rental scams in Coquitlam prompted a warning from RCMP Tuesday after two would-be tenants lost deposits on fake listings.
Montreal police says it is working to dismantle a "major amphetamine trafficking and production network."
The federal government is sending vaccines and other 'therapeutics' to Quebec to deal with a recent outbreak of monkeypox that has grown to 15 confirmed cases.
Victoria International Airport reopened late Tuesday following the discovery of what authorities described as an incendiary device and surplus military gear in a passenger's luggage.
Police were at the scene of a serious crash near Courtenay, B.C., on Tuesday afternoon.
Police say a man in his late 30s drowned while swimming in Nanaimo, B.C., on Sunday evening.
As the inquiry into Nova Scotia’s mass shooting moves its public proceedings to Truro, many of the family members affected by the tragedy and their lawyers are boycotting the proceedings over the next week.
A study from RBC and Canadian think tank Youthful Cities found that Halifax is the least affordable city for young people aged 15 to 29 compared to 26 other major Canadian cities.
The Atlantic hurricane season, which spans from June 1 to Nov. 30, is expected to be a busy one. Experts from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration out of the United States, along with those from the Canadian Hurricane Centre, released predictions for the 2022 Atlantic Hurricane season Tuesday.
The RV industry has been experiencing a two-year shortage in supply, along with inflated costs for those in stock, plus rising gas prices.
City officials in Ottawa say it could be another two to three days to restore power, but Hydro Ottawa is assuring the community that progress is being made.
Power has now been fully restored in Waterloo region, but cleanup efforts will continue for a few days.
Two people have been seriously injured following a collision in Baden, Ont., with one person needing to be airlifted to a hospital outside the region.
Some local fitness enthusiasts are looking for their money back after purchasing tickets to a popular extreme obstacle course event.