Quebecers can now report their rapid test results; critic says new system missed an opportunity
About a month after reaching its official COVID-19 testing capacity, on Tuesday the Quebec government launched its long-awaited platform meant to help capture all the unofficial tests now being done at home.
The website allows Quebecers to submit the results of their rapid tests, whether negative or positive, in order to give authorities a better overall picture of how the virus is circulating in the province.
But one Montrealer who came up with a citizen-run version much sooner says there are some basic ingredients lacking from the governmental version, including some verifications that the tests submitted are real.
"They do not validate the lot number or the test used," wrote Olivier Drouin on Twitter.
Drouin, who began the site COVID Ecoles Quebec in August 2020 to track school cases, created his own rapid test self-submission site earlier this month, and designed it differently.
He told CTV he hoped for even more from the government's site, since it could have built in the ability to check the validity of test results -- not only for the sake of the data's credibility, but for citizens' needs to have their illnesses verified for various reasons.
"People have had issues proving they had, or have, COVID to their employers, [and] to insurance companies for disability claims," he pointed out.
Drouin's site collects no personal information, unlike the official platform, but it does ask people to prove they used a legitimate rapid test, and gives them the option of declaring what school they're associated with, if any.
So far, Drouin's system has garnered 843 positive test result reports, which he is publishing on a live map.
Quebec's health minister said the official platform will be very useful to the government and encouraged people to use it.
“With such a tool now available to the public, it will be easier for our public health teams to assess the progression of the virus within the community," said Minister Christian Dubé in a statement Tuesday.
"We will therefore be able to have a more realistic overall picture, which will help public health to adjust health measures according to the real epidemiological situation."
The province didn't immediately say if, when or how the results will be made public.
This kind of platform has been needed for the past month, since PCR tests done at clinics and processed by labs became out of reach for most Quebecers, the province acknowledged.
Since jan. 5, these have been limited to a small subgroup of essential workers, including health-care workers and now teachers. For weeks, the province has included a disclaimer with its official case counts that these numbers are no longer accurate.
"In a context where tests in screening centers are now reserved for certain very specific priority groups and where the number of known cases is therefore underestimated, such a tool will help to better assess the positivity rate of the population," the province wrote Tuesday in a release.
Drouin's citizen-run crowdsourcing can't be used for these kinds of official purposes. However, in a side-by-side comparison on Twitter, he pointed out some things he felt were lacking from the province's effort.
For one thing, the province does take personal information -- which is standard for its health platforms, such as Clic-Santé. It said on Tuesday that the platform has been tested for cybersecurity.
It asks users to submit their name, birthdate and gender, as well as their health insurance numbers, if they have health cards.
They enter the results of their test and click a button attesting that they're telling the truth.
Drouin's page, meanwhile, doesn't ask for any personal identifying information, but does ask for the first three digits of the person's postal code. It also gives an option to submit a school name if one is associated with the person in question.
It also asks users to fill out several fields with details about the rapid test itself: its lot number, expiry date and fabrication code found on the box.
GOVERNMENT'S NEEDS AREN'T THE ONLY ONES TO CONSIDER: DROUIN
Drouin told CTV News he's disappointed with how much wasn't done on the official site, considering the government did have the option to do much more with this kind of tool.
It asks for no information about the test itself, he pointed out, other than whether it was positive or negative: no date the test was taken, no way to trace which test kit was used or whether it was real.
That adds up, he said, to "no official confirmation from government that you had COVID at a given date."
In reality, he said, the government should realize this is a pressing need for many regular people.
"All of the people testing with rapid tests are orphan cases that are not officially tracked or recognized," he said.
He predicted that if the province misses the opportunity to help in this area, there will be many more problems down the road, as a glut of people have trouble properly diagnosing their symptoms or getting compensation, he said.
"A few months from now, when people that were positive on rapid test [and] have no proof from government they were positive at a given date start developing long-COVID permanent symptoms, they will face issues," he said.
Late last month, after tests became out of reach, CTV News asked Quebec's worker's rights board (CNESST) what kind of proof was needed for workers to receive compensation if they were infected on the job and needed
"For compensation purposes... the CNESST accepts positive COVID-19 test results from the following two sources: from the [provincial] COVID-19 Screening Platform OR from a written confirmation from the Ministry of Health and of Social Services," said a spokesperson from the board.
In other words, if PCR test results were not provided as usual, workers would need to receive written proof from the health ministry. The CNESST directed further questions to the health ministry to learn more about those two options.
In an email, the health ministry said that for its own workers in the health and social system, a PCR test following a rapid test is necessary for proof.
"In the current context, it would be impossible for Public Health to confirm all the results of rapid tests," it wrote.
Have you had any problems at work after not being able to prove a positive infection with an at-home test? Tell us about your experience at MontrealDigitalNews@bellmedia.ca
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