(Quebec) Getting their hands on rapid test kits for COVID-19 is an obstacle course for entrepreneurs. More than seven weeks after allowing companies to use these tests, barely sixty have been able to qualify for it. A low number attributable to the administrative burden of the process, according to employers’ organizations and experts.
Posted on April 8, 2021 at 5:00 a.m.
The Ministry of Health and Social Services (MSSS) confirmed to Press have received – as of April 1 – 141 requests from businesses across the province for a rapid screening test kit. Only 59 have since been approved and 29 have been rejected, “because the need did not match the desired use”. The other requests are still being analyzed.
“I can imagine that people who start [ce processus] can lose patience or stop because you have to really push hard to succeed, ”says Lallemand Chairman and CEO, Antoine Chagnon. His company, which specializes in the development and marketing of yeasts and bacteria for agrifood purposes, employs 750 workers in Quebec.
Lallemand launched the use of rapid screening tests at three of its sites, in Montreal, Salaberry-de-Valleyfield and Mirabel, two weeks ago. “We were ready long before,” says Mr. Chagnon.
Despite the fact that Quebec has indicated it wants to expand their use, a tiny fraction of the approximately 4.56 million rapid tests sent by Ottawa are used.
Press reported just over a week ago that approximately 60,000 tests have been used, or 1.3% of inventory.
Quebec announced on February 17 that companies could acquire a stock of rapid tests to avoid outbreaks and closures. It is necessary to send a request to the MSSS, which will be submitted for analysis. Finally, an “adequate use protocol” must be agreed with Public Health.
“We were ready at the beginning of March. We were told that we had to make an official request on the Ministry’s website, which we did on March 3, but we only got the final answer that we were eligible on March 26. And we only had access to the tests on the 1stis avril », relate M. Chagnon.
It blocked so much, the Ministry was so slow to respond that we decided to buy [environ 1000 tests Panbio] to be ready to start as soon as possible when we have the authorization.
Antoine Chagnon, CEO of Lallemand
Lallemand has sold its stocks and is now using the tests provided by Quebec.
A worker in Bas-Saint-Laurent, where the third wave of the pandemic is in full swing, told Press that the company that employs him has been “struggling” to obtain a rapid test kit for weeks, without success. “We get lost in the administrative mazes and forms,” he explained.
The latter asked to remain anonymous since he is not authorized to speak on behalf of the company. After submitting a request to the CISSS in its region, the establishment forwarded an eight-page document explaining the “considerations prior to the use” of rapid tests. There are more than 20 approval criteria that must all be met.
“The framework is excessively restrictive”, estimates the Dre Marie-Pascale Pomey, professor at the School of Public Health at the University of Montreal, who we asked to review the form. “It’s a really misplaced paternalism, it’s as if people were unable to self-regulate,” she says.
“Unjustified” medical act
The Dre Marie-Pascale Pomey particularly points out the obligation that rapid screening tests, which provide a result in 15 minutes, must be performed by health professionals. “Honestly, it is not justified,” she emphasizes.
The MSSS considers this to be a medical act. The working environment must therefore have access to the services of one or more professionals to perform the tests. In business, we prefer the use of the Panbio brand rapid test, which requires a nasal sample.
In the pilot project on their use in two Montreal schools, it is the students themselves who perform the nasal swab. A research assistant then performs the test using the sample provided by the student.
In Lallemand’s initial project, we also wanted employees to self-administer the test under the supervision of trained employees. Mr. Chagnon indicates that he came to “a compromise” with the MSSS and finally hired a nurse. But this limits the number of workers tested during night shifts.
Lallemand is a member of the CDL rapid screening consortium, which includes its partners Air Canada, Rogers and Suncore, among others. Their goal is to establish reliable enterprise protocols for the use of rapid tests, which are less efficient than an ordinary PCR test. According to Mr. Chagnon, “at most sites” of Canadian partners, employees self-administer the tests.
“We come to empower people”, pleads the Dre Pomey. A group of researchers from Montreal and she are also working on a research project with the Trudeau Farms where it would be the workers themselves who would do the test. Always under the supervision of employees trained to carry out monitoring and supervision.
Quebec favors the use of rapid screening tests in companies in the context of an outbreak. What also makes the D tickre Pomey, who believes that their use should be done in a context of prevention. ” [Le MSSS] wants it to be a diagnostic test when it is a screening test, ”she adds.
The President and CEO of Manufacturiers et Exportateurs du Québec, Véronique Proulx, believes that the requirement of a nurse is “probably a brake” for companies that would like to have tests. She says the administrative process “does not seem simple, but achievable”.
“For some companies, it is really an important tool among the tools they put in place to do prevention and for others, they are very comfortable with what they are already doing and not doing. do not feel the need to access it. It’s fairly shared, ”explained Mme Proulx.
The President and CEO of the Federation of Quebec Chambers of Commerce, Charles Milliard, maintains that “it remains a somewhat complex process” to have access to rapid tests. “Clearly, the emphasis in government and for everyone is on immunization,” he says.
“The appearance of the third wave brings back the importance of making maximum use of the rapid tests that we have available. It must be recognized that this has been somewhat overshadowed by the improvement of the vaccination system when both must live at the same time, ”continues Mr. Milliard.
Asked about the complexity of the process, the MSSS wrote by email that “businesses are supported from start to finish and have access to stakeholders to answer their questions”.
“We must not forget that for a screening process to be effective, it must be supervised and carried out properly. This approach is intended to comply with the recommendations of the opinion of the Expert Committee on rapid tests and manufacturers’ standards, ”it says. This committee ruled in mid-January that these tests “may have a special place” in the fight against the pandemic, provided they are used “cautiously and intelligently”.
The Minister of Health and Social Services, Christian Dubé, affirmed last week that the use of rapid tests had “perhaps not been as important” as desired in Quebec, in particular because of the variants, since it is impossible to screen or sequence them. He also assured that their use “across Canada is about the same rate” as in Quebec.
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