Province to make New Brunswick's COVID rapid test results public by end of week

·4 min read
New Brunswick will begin making self-reported rapid test results public by the end of the week.  (The Canadian Press - image credit)
New Brunswick will begin making self-reported rapid test results public by the end of the week. (The Canadian Press - image credit)

New Brunswick will soon begin releasing the number of positive COVID-19 results from self-reported rapid tests, but that still won't necessarily present an accurate picture of the virus's spread in the province.

Since last week, the provincial dashboard has only reported cases captured by PCR tests administered by Public Health. Only 201 cases were reported on Sunday, compared to 840 just two days before.

But spokesperson Bruce Macfarlane says rapid self-testing will become part of the count by the end of the week.

"The Department of Health has every intention of reporting positive rapid test results and ensuring they are made available on the dashboard later this week," he said in an emailed statement.

"Enhancements will be made to the COVID-19 dashboard to include daily submitted point of care testing self-reporting positive results."

Macfarlane said Public Health has "high hopes" the majority of people who self-test as positive will go online to log their cases.

CBC News
CBC News

"We are hopeful that the process is user friendly and familiar, so that New Brunswickers can easily contribute to monitoring COVID-19 in the province."

But not everyone plans to do so.

"I really don't know why I would," said Dieppe sales representative Justin Babineau. "I feel logging this just gives them more numbers. I don't think they're going to do anything with it."

Babineau, who has had two doses of vaccine, had what he called "very, very mild" symptoms after a Christmas vacation and took a rapid test at home on Jan. 2 as a precaution. The test was positive.

"I'm really not sure what the point would be to log it online. I followed the rules, I isolated for five days, I felt better and I went on with my life."

Jada Roche, a Carleton County data analyst whose spouse picked up rapid tests in Woodstock on Monday after they starting having symptoms, said their kits did not include any instructions on how to log their positive results.

Rachel Cave/CBC
Rachel Cave/CBC

And she said she encountered a glitch on her first attempt to report their cases.

Roche said she laughed when she saw the low PCR positive numbers on the weekend.

"I think they're at least triple that, honestly. … I think those numbers are basically a joke."

Last week, the province said people under the age of 50 who are not in high-risk categories can no longer book an appointment for a more precise PCR test administered by health-care professionals.

Instead, they have to register themselves to pick up less-precise rapid tests, also known as POCTs, and administer them and report the results themselves.

Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press
Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press

That creates multiple points where a positive case may not be known or recorded even if the POCT positives are reported publicly, says Fredericton data analyst Ray Harris.

"I think the future is going to be an inaccurate account of how much COVID is in the community," said Harris, who has been posting graphs and charts on New Brunswick's COVID numbers since early in the pandemic.

"I don't think we'll ever get close to being accurate in that regard again. … We need to trust that people are actually putting their results in and really we have no visibility to that."

But Harris said that with the province shifting its focus, and medical resources, to high-risk groups who can still get PCR tests, it should be able to get an accurate picture of viral spread where it most needs to.

"Our tradeoff is an accurate account of the prevalence of COVID in the population that will have the biggest impact on how our hospitals function," he said.

Health Minister Dorothy Shephard said last Friday that 2,009 positive rapid tests had been reported to the province over the previous six days.

"We know we're not going to get every single positive case registered," she said. But she said she was hoping that "with public participation … we'll have a fairly good indication of what our numbers are at."

Babineau said if cases among low-risk groups aren't a priority anymore he's not sure why the province would bother compiling data.

He said the high volume of COVID data since March 2020 does not appear to have helped the province improve how it responds to the pandemic.

"We keep giving information and giving information and giving information. Nothing has changed. We're not making our health-care system stronger or better."

He believes "a substantial amount of people" will do what he did when they test positive: follow the rules and isolate, but not bother with going online to report it.

"There's no real point to it," he said. "I'm not the only who isn't reporting this. I may be the only one who told you about it, but I'm not the only one who isn't reporting it."

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