Authorities in Canada have unveiled a new non-invasive coronavirus test which avoids the need for intrusive nasal swabs, in a development which they hope will making testing easier and more accessible for students as they return to schools.
The new testing method, unveiled Thursday, is a significant departure from the standard – and often painful – nasopharyngeal swab which remains the most common method of detecting Covid-19.
Instead, children in the western province of British Columbia will have the chance to “swirl, gargle and spit” a non-invasive saline solution – the one of the first tests of its kind in the world.
“Unlike the nasopharyngeal swab this is a new saline gargle where you put a little bit of normal saline water in your mouth, you swish it around a little bit – and you spit it into a little tube. And that’s an easier way to collect it for young people,” Dr Bonnie Henry, British Columbia’s top doctor, told reporters.
The test, which doesn’t need to be administered by a healthcare professional, requires children gargle the solution for 30 seconds, before spitting it into a tube. The sample produces 5-10ml of fluid for testing.
Like a swab, the aim of the test is to sweep up tissue samples that might host the coronavirus. Saline also helps preserve the viral structures by more closely mimicking their natural environment.
In order to prevent contamination of the samples, the province advises children not to eat, drink, chew gum or brush their teeth in the hours before the test.
Henry says the new test will be available at Covid-19 collection and assessment centres across the province, but for now is only offered to school-age children until supply can meet demand. Authorities will continue using the nose swab method for younger children or those who can’t follow the swish, gargle and spit instructions.
The announcement comes as provinces across Canada are grappling with long lines at testing centres. New requirements require children or parents with mild symptoms to be tested, and many facilities have been quickly overwhelmed, with some reporting that they have reached capacity within hours of opening.