COVID-19 Testing at the Workplace

There are many types of COVID-19 tests going around: some quick and some slower; some less reliable and some more so. While on the brink of an unfortunate 3rd wave and with the multiplication of new variants, I thought this would be a good time to share information with the community about the different test types.

Testing for an Active Infection

There are two types of test being used to identify COVID-19 infections.

  1. The antigen rapid test.

  2. The polymerase chain reaction.

The antigen rapid test

The fastest test available in the market is the antigen rapid test. This is the test we use when we want quick results, which can be as fast as 10-30 minutes. Unfortunately, the drawback of this quick result is that the accuracy of this test is less than that of PCR tests (discussed below), especially when the tested individual is asymptomatic. However, when symptoms are reported, testing accuracy is proven to be much higher.

What is an antigen? And how is it utilized in this test? An antigen is a substance that your immune system does not recognize, believes to be harmful, and then triggers an immune response to fight against it. Foreign chemicals, pollen, and of course, the COVID-19 virus are examples of antigens. To detect an antigen in your body, a sample of saliva or mucous is taken from your nose or throat. This sample must be large in the sense that it must contain thousands of viral particles for the antigen test to detect the virus. If the result comes back positive, that means there is a high probability that you are infected and contagious. If the result comes back negative, it may mean either you do not carry the virus in your system, or it may be a false negative. A false negative implies that you do have the virus, but the test did not detect it. Your doctor or health professional may ask you to take the PCR test, which is more accurate.

The polymerase chain reaction test

The polymerase chain reaction, (PCR) is a molecular test that, unlike the rapid antigen test, brings in highly accurate results irrespective of obvious symptoms. The PCR test also takes longer to obtain a result. The time can range from one day to one week depending on the how far away the lab is and how many tests are being performed. However, due to the test’s high accuracy rate, re-tests and false negatives are rare.

The process of the PCR test is more complex than its antigen companion. A swab of mucous or saliva is still taken, although large samples are not required due the test’s high sensitivity. The objective of this test is to obtain a DNA sample and create numerous copies of it. The detection of the virus’ genetic material will be possible at this point, yielding a positive result. This positive result means that you have COVID-19 but there is a chance that you may not be contagious.

Testing After the Infection

Antibody tests are conducted only to determine if a virus has been in your system; this test is not used for diagnosis. Antibodies are proteins made by immune cells to fight a foreign body in your system. Each antibody is specific to an antigen This test uses serological (blood) tests to determine if there are antibodies in your bloodstream. If there are, this signifies that you contracted the virus in the past.

Using these tests in Canada

For regulatory purposes, Canada does not allow just anyone to get a hold of any of these tests. You must be a health professional to buy and perform these tests since there are specific protocols that must be followed, and only trained professionals are equipped to handle them.

However, while the average person may not be able to perform these tests, it is important to understand these COVID-19 tests and their respective implications.

For those needing return to office support, Genesis Resilience offers guidance on areas including signage and sanitation protocols to ensure safety of the employees and employer.

If you would like more information or have any questions, please contact us.

Author: Ahsan Zaman - Principal Consultant