A Kitchener, Ont., doctor is behind a new Twitter account that hopes to be the next Vaccine Hunters — but instead of helping people find COVID-19 vaccines, it'll help them find rapid tests to detect the virus.
Dr. Dalia Hasan started the COVID Test Finders account about three months ago. She has since recruited about 25 volunteers to tweet out information about testing and where to find rapid tests.
But because these tests are still hard to come by in Ontario and other parts of Canada, Hasan said the account has taken on an advocacy role, calling on health officials to make rapid tests more widely available.
"The ultimate goal for us … is to become obsolete," said Hasan. "We want the provincial government to step up and deliver rapid tests to our community so that they can safeguard the public at large."
Rapid tests aren't a cure-all, Hasan said, but they can help end the COVID-19 pandemic more quickly when used in conjunction with other measures like vaccination, ventilation and masking.
Dr. Amit Arya, an assistant clinical professor at McMaster University, also wants Ontario to hand over more rapid tests to the public.
Right now, Arya said businesses can get these tests easily, whereas schools have "very limited access," focusing on situations where there's a high risk of transmission. The province has also announced it will send students home with a pack of tests at winter break, so they can be tested before returning to school, and will offer pop-up testing over the holidays.
Arya noted other governments have made other choices. In October, New Brunswick began offering the tests for pickup at a variety of locations across the province. In Germany, they can be purchased for about one euro each at grocery stores. In Singapore, they're available in vending machines.
"Definitely this is something that we need in Ontario," Arya told the Morning Edition - K-W.
Rapid test event coming to K-W
The COVID Test Finders account also crowdsources rapid tests to send them to vulnerable groups.
For example, Hasan said, someone may send the account a direct message saying they're in a high-risk setting, or are undergoing cancer treatment, and the team will mail them a pack of rapid tests.
At this point, Hasan said, the group has sourced enough tests and donations to hold its first in-person event, where it plans to distribute around 100 sets of rapid test kits to families.
The event is tentatively set for the weekend of Dec. 18, but Hasan said the group is still looking for a location.
If demand surpasses the supply, she said, the volunteers will select families through a lottery system.
Janice Jim, an administrator of the Caremongering KW Facebook group, is helping Hasan with the project.
Jim said asymptomatic pharmacy tests, which cost about $40, are out of reach for many in the community. There's a significant need for more rapid testing in the region, Jim said, especially since a pilot testing project through Communitech has come to a close.
She called the lack of widely available rapid tests a "failure" of the provincial government.
"With the new variant, the more defences we have, the better," said Jim, who is also chief financial officer of the Waterloo Federal NDP. "Our numbers are already spiking."
Hasan isn't affiliated with any political party, but agrees the province should do more to prioritize rapid testing as a public health measure.
"Regardless of which political party is in power, it's important for them to be held accountable to distributing critical public health tools," she said.
In response to questions from CBC K-W about plans to further expand rapid testing, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Health said the province has already distributed more than 33 million rapid antigen tests, and pointed to upcoming initiatives like winter break and holiday pop-up testing.
The spokesperson did not mention any new initiatives beyond what has already been announced.