U of Sask student, epidemiologist team up to track Canada's rapid test results, fill COVID-19 data gaps

·2 min read
With more people using rapid antigen tests over PCR tests, a student and epidemiologist at the University of Saskatchewan have worked together to track rapid test results, aiming to collect data missing from official reports. (David Horemans/CBC - image credit)
With more people using rapid antigen tests over PCR tests, a student and epidemiologist at the University of Saskatchewan have worked together to track rapid test results, aiming to collect data missing from official reports. (David Horemans/CBC - image credit)

An online tool made by a University of Saskatchewan student could offer a clearer picture of how COVID-19 is spreading in Canada, by tracking results from rapid tests across the country.

Last month, the Saskatchewan government joined some other provinces in encouraging residents to use rapid antigen tests, which can be taken at home, instead of seeking out a PCR test, unless their symptoms are severe.

The PCR, or polymerase chain reaction, tests given at provincial testing sites are considered more accurate, but the province has said the shift to relying on rapid tests was needed to help preserve PCR testing capacity for high-risk populations.

However, that's left gaps in the official data, according to U of S epidemiologist Nazeem Muhajarine.

Only cases confirmed through PCR tests are included in the official COVID-19 numbers reported by the province.

But Muhajarine estimates that for every positive PCR test, there are two positive rapid test results that go unreported.

"It compromises the understanding of the COVID-19 disease distribution in our province and in our country, so I think that it's a huge issue," Muhajarine said.

University of Saskatchewan
University of Saskatchewan

So he reached out to Noah Little, a biomedical neuroscience student at the U of S who created an online COVID-19 tracker.

The website already records cases and vaccine rates across Canada — and now, it's tracking rapid test results as well.

Little's new tracker allows people to anonymously report their positive rapid test results by entering their postal code, age and the day they took the test.

"What this does is it adds it to a database of rapid test results that can be used for research and can be used to better understand these gaps in data," he said.

Little said he's been interested in adding the rapid test results to his site since noticing other jurisdictions were pointing people to the at-home rapid tests over PCR tests.

He added that it only took about a day after Muhajarine reached out last week before he got the first prototype up online.

LISTEN | The Morning Edition's Stefani Langenegger speaks with COVID-19 Tracker creator Noah Little:

Little says since then, roughly 1,000 people have submitted their rapid test results through the site — both positive and negative, which helps to monitor test positivity rates.

"The more people who are able to submit to this, the more complete picture we'll get of the [COVID-19] spread in Canada," he said.

Little said the statistics are currently being plugged into spreadsheets. By next week, he plans to turn those numbers into an online dashboard — similar to how he's helped people visualize the official case and hospitalization data.

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