Toronto Pearson airport will be the headquarters for a new COVID-19 PCR and antigen testing research program starting March 1, the Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA) said on Wednesday (Feb. 24).
In a release, the GTAA said the program will explore the efficacy of antigen testing, compared with the rapid polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, in a “high-throughput, commercial environment,” as well as the operationalization of rapid PCR testing in an airport environment.
In the realm of travel, the Government of Canada currently only accepts PCR tests from international arrivals as part of new pre-departure travel requirements it introduced on Jan. 7.
The GTAA’s program is supported in part by funding from the National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC IRAP).
The authority said its part of an ongoing commitment to science and data-driven strategies.
"The GTAA continues to demonstrate its commitment and leadership in the exploration of the science of COVID-19 testing,” said Deborah Flint, President and CEO, GTAA. “Science is at the heart of our Healthy Airport commitment and we are pleased to receive this support from NRC IRAP on this additional testing program, as we pursue further innovation here at Toronto Pearson.”
Flint added that the research will improve access to testing “that will identify, trace and isolate COVID-19."
On-site airport testing
The announcement heralds the creation of new point-of-need testing capacity at Pearson airport.
The GTAA, in collaboration with Canadian healthcare companies, will run a ten-week antigen test study at the airport.
The study will make free COVID-19 tests available to employees, as well as testing for eligible passengers on select routes who are willing to volunteer as participants, said the GTAA.
Starting March 1, clinical analysis of test swabs will take place on-site at the airport, using LuminUltra's rapid PCR test, with results provided to the participant within two hours.
Participants will also be tested using Response Biomedical rapid antigen tests, said the GTAA.
For airport workers, many of whom live near the airport, taking part in this research will help to identify, trace and isolate COVID-19 at work and at home in the communities that surround the airport, the GTAA said.
“Airport worker testing is the latest development in the GTAA's ongoing commitment to being proactive and transparent in protecting the airports' workforce,” said the GTAA.
Antigen vs. PCR
A second study will run in parallel to the federally-funded study to compare antigen and rapid PCR tests, said the GTAA.
The second research stream, the Workplace Antigen Testing Study, will explore the viability of frequent antigen testing within a workforce as a method to quickly identify, trace and isolate COVID-19.
By testing multiple times per week over multiple weeks, researchers will study how frequent use of antigen tests can improve workplace safety by reducing the risk of spreading COVID-19, the GTAA explained.
This study will use Abbot's Panbio rapid antigen test, provided by the Ontario government to conduct this research.
Canadian epidemiologists and researchers affiliated with the University of Toronto, University Health Network and Unity Health Toronto: Dr. Kevin Schwartz, Dr. Prabhat Jha and Dr. Isaac Bogoch, will also play a role.
The Workplace Antigen Testing Study will recruit volunteers from Toronto Pearson's airport worker community and participants will receive multiple antigen tests per week for a period of approximately eight weeks.
"Frequent, rapid testing for screening of asymptomatic people is an important layer among other essential public health measures to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19,” said Dr. Schwartz, an infectious disease physician at Unity Health Toronto and the University of Toronto.
These latest studies add to other initiatives the GTAA has undertaken throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
In September 2020, the GTAA co-sponsored the McMaster HealthLabs International Border Study at Pearson.
The interim results of that study were “instrumental in the continuing public policy discussion around arrivals testing as an effective protective layer against COVID-19,” the GTAA said.
For more information about the program, go to torontopearson.com/testing.
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