A residential aged care provider in Melbourne is trialling a 10-minute test for the coronavirus that aims to boost safety for residents by detecting asymptomatic infections.
The month-long trial at Abberfield Aged Care Facility will test the effectiveness of rapid antigen testing as a COVID-19 screening tool for all people entering the facility, such as staff, contractors and visitors, and its ability to detect asymptomatic cases.
The trial, which is expected to commence this week, will use medical device manufacturer Atomo Diagnostics’ rapid antigen test for COVID-19, which can detect acute infection and deliver a result in 10 minutes.
It will compare the results between the rapid antigen test and the polymerase chain reaction test, or PCR, currently used to screen for COVID-19. It will also test the I-dentikey smartphone app to automatically and securely store the results of the rapid test.
General practitioner Dr Henry Konopnicki, who is overseeing the trial, said the technology aimed to minimise COVID-19 risks for aged care residents.
“We want to prove that this is a quick, reliable, cost effective way [to screen for COVID-19], now that we’re going to be moving from a pandemic to an endemic,” Dr Konopnicki told Australian Ageing Agenda.
Using rapid antigen tests will provide reassurance to the residents, staff, the organisation and families that anyone entering the facility is not asymptomatic with COVID-19, he said.
“Because you get a result in 10 minutes, if it’s negative, it’s going to give us a good sense of security. But if it’s positive, then they need to go off… and go automatically into isolation and get a COVID test,” he said.
The standard PCR test is “the gold standard” but it takes 24 to 48 hours to get a result and is more expensive than this rapid test, Dr Konopnicki said.
“We’re looking at a more cost effective, timely way of screening,” he said.
Testing can reduce the risk of an outbreak in aged care facilities, which have several visitors in addition to staff, such as contractors, families and allied health professionals, which increases their risk of COVID-19, he said.
“This is a quick way of minimising the risk, so you can jump on it much quicker. If someone’s positive, we can go to action. You don’t have to wait and quickly do contact tracing.”
Dr Konopnicki hopes the trial will prove rapid antigen tests can help aged care providers protect their residents and prevent outbreaks.
International studies show there is a significant cohort of people with COVID-19 who are asymptomatic, he said.
Atomo Diagnotics CEO John Kelly said the time and expense of current COVID-19 PCR-exclusive testing protocols limited its effectiveness in settings like aged care.
“Studies around the world show that a significant cohort of people are asymptomatic when infected with COVID-19. This can cause a huge risk of potential infection in high-risk settings such as aged care,” Mr Kelly said in a statement.
“COVID-19 infection concerns have limited family visits to residents in aged care facilities all over Australia, undermining confidence in staff and contractors in entering facilities.”
This policy is failing aged care residents and is out of step with other developed nation’s COVID-19 responses, he said.
Main image: Abberfield Aged Care Facility
This story has been updated for clarity