Free at-home rapid COVID-19 tests now available in some Quebec pharmacies. Here's how to get yours
As COVID-19 cases are soaring across Quebec, the provincial government is now offering free rapid antigen tests for residents to take home with them.
The province said the free tests, which can usually cost consumers around $40 in most pharmacies, can help give Quebecers some “peace of mind” as they prepare to gather with families over the holidays. The roll-out of the tests started gradually on Dec. 20.
Here’s how it works:
WHO CAN GET A RAPID TEST?
Anyone 14 and older can get a free take-home rapid test kit from a pharmacy. Visitors will be asked to show their health card when they show up and are being advised that they will not be able to get more than one kit by visiting multiple pharmacies, according to the Quebec Association of Pharmacist Owners the AQPP.
A spokesperson for the province’s health ministry said “special procedures” will be in place for people who don’t have a health card.
“We are also counting on the cooperation of the population to ensure that the distribution of the self-tests takes place in a respectful manner,” the spokesperson said in an email.
The government recommends rapid tests only be used by people who are showing symptoms of COVID-19.
WHERE DO I GET A RAPID TEST?
In Quebec, the free tests will be distributed across 1,900 pharmacies in the province.
While some jurisdictions like Alberta provides an online map of locations offering free rapid tests, in Quebec people will have to call their local pharmacy or visit their websites to find out if they are being offered there.
Residents can find a list of pharmacies closest to them by entering their postal code on the Goverment of Quebec's website.
“Tests will be distributed as we receive them, but they may not be available at all pharmacies in the first days of deployment. Participating pharmacies will be continuously restocked in the coming weeks depending on arrivals from the federal government,” the association said in a statement on Dec. 15.
How the pharmacies choose to distribute the tests is up to them. For example, Jean Coutu and Brunet pharmacies require people to book an appointment in advance in order to pick up a rapid test kit. At other pharmacies, rapid tests are offered on a first-come-first-served basis. Call or visit your nearest pharmacy for more information.
The @C19TestFinders Twitter account has been hunting for locations offering free rapid tests in Ontario, following in the footsteps of the popular vaccine hunter Twitter account earlier in the pandemic. @C19TestFinders founder Dr. Dalia Hasan told CTV News she is offering the same service for Quebecers.
HOW MANY TESTS CAN I TAKE?
Every 30 days, Quebecers will be eligible to receive one free testing kit. Each kit contains five rapid tests.
The Quebec government has said it will roll out 10 million free rapid antigen tests province-wide, depending on supply, until March 31, 2022.
ARE RAPID TESTS EFFECTIVE?
The ministry of health says there are both advantages and disadvantages of rapid antigen testing. They are easy to use and you can get a result in less than 15 minutes, but they can also sometimes provide false positives.
If your rapid test comes back positive, you should book a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, which is considered the gold standard for COVID-19 testing, and self-isolate until you receive a negative test result.
Public health experts say a rapid test is just one layer of protection from the coronavirus and it can be a useful tool if used properly and in a timely manner.
"With Omicron, that means that you can't rely on a negative test that is old," Dr. Matthew Oughton, an infectious disease specialist at the Jewish General Hospital and McGill University, told CTV earlier this month.
“So If you're going to some sort of get-together, then it really makes sense to do that rapid test very soon before that gathering happens."
More information about rapid testing is available on the government’s website.