Specimens to be tested for COVID-19 are seen at LifeLabs after being logged upon receipt at the company’s lab, in Surrey, B.C., on Thursday, March 26, 2020. The doctor overseeing Canada’s COVID-19 antibody research says we should get the first glimpse of how many Canadians may already have had COVID-19 by the middle of this month. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Specimens to be tested for COVID-19 are seen at LifeLabs after being logged upon receipt at the company’s lab, in Surrey, B.C., on Thursday, March 26, 2020. The doctor overseeing Canada’s COVID-19 antibody research says we should get the first glimpse of how many Canadians may already have had COVID-19 by the middle of this month. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

First glimpse of Canada’s true COVID-19 infection rate expected mid-July

At least 105,000 Canadians have tested positive for COVID-19 since the coronavirus was identified

The national immunity task force has started testing thousands of blood samples for COVID-19 antibodies and should be able to produce a more detailed picture of how many Canadians have been infected with the novel coronavirus within a couple of weeks.

It will be much longer, however, before we know more about what kind of protection against future infection having the antibodies provides, said Dr. Timothy Evans, executive director of the COVID-19 Immunity Task Force.

Plus, said Evans, most of the people whose blood is being tested will not be informed of the results because of how the blood is being collected for testing.

“There won’t be an opportunity for individuals to find out their status,” said Evans, who is also director of the McGill School of Population and Global Health.

At least 105,000 Canadians have tested positive for COVID-19 since the coronavirus was identified in January, while many others were sick but couldn’t get tested because provinces were limiting who could access the procedure until just a few weeks ago.

Evans also said a significant number of people get the infection and show no symptoms and will have no clue they were ever sick. Evans said immunity testing in other countries has suggested the actual infection rate is 10 to 20 times more than the number of confirmed cases.

There are multiple prongs to the task force’s plan to figure out the true infection rate here, starting with running antibody tests on 40,000 samples collected from people who donated blood to Canadian Blood Services and Hema Quebec since May. Evans said about 1,600 of those samples are being run through the test kits every day now, and analyses are already under way on the results.

“Hopefully within the next two weeks we will have an initial first number,” he said.

The first results will reveal how many samples showed antibodies, but include no specifics like whether they are male or female or where they live.

“By the end of the month of July, we expect to have a more broken down picture of what we call the seroprevalence, the presence of antibodies in the blood, that will look at it by age group and geographic location,” Evans said.

PHOTOS: B.C.’s top doc picks up personalized Fluevog shoes, tours mural exhibition

Evans said Canadian Blood Services can’t trace back the samples to the actual patients who gave them, so positive antibody tests will not be reported back for anyone who donated blood outside of Quebec. He said Hema Quebec said it might be possible to identify the patients but hasn’t yet decided if it will do so.

Another testing program is now beginning on 25,000 blood samples taken from pregnant women, using blood routinely drawn during the first trimester to screen for sexually transmitted infections and check for immunity to other illnesses like rubella. COVID-19 antibody testing will be added to that list for all pregnant women in Canada, going back all the way to December. The women will be informed if they test positive for COVID-19 antibodies, said Evans.

Evans said there are also about 30,000 blood samples held in provincial labs that are being tested for antibodies.

He said together these projects can provide a piecemeal picture of the infection rate across the country, though it won’t be a truly representative sample until a national household survey can be run. That isn’t going to happen until the portable antibody tests become reliable, but a plan is being developed with Statistics Canada so it’s ready when the tests are.

“We’d love to have a test that didn’t require a formal blood draw, but rather a pin prick but we’re not quite there yet,” he said. “There’s some things on the horizon. We’re trying to get those validated quickly but we still haven’t got what I would call a good portable test that could be used in the home.”

The tests the task force is using now require only a small amount of blood — less than 1/20th of a teaspoon, generally — but it is still more than what comes from a finger prick.

Evans said understanding how many people got infected can help drive policy decisions about where to vaccinate first, the impact specific public health measures might have had in some settings like long-term care centres, hospitals and schools, or communities that have been hit particularly hard.

The task force also has a two-year mandate to try to look at what kind of protection someone has from having antibodies, as well as how long the levels of antibodies last in a person’s blood. Evans said those studies are just getting underway and will take time, including looking to see whether people who have the antibodies get infected during a second or third wave of the pandemic.

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

CanadaCoronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Penelope the cat showed up safe and sound at her owner’s porch after an unusual trip through the news cycle in recent weeks. (Photo courtesy of Reuniting Owners with Animals Missing)
Penelope, cat and friend of the Victoria HarbourCats, returns home safe

The cat had an after an unusual trip through the news cycle in recent weeks

Work is progressing on the new student housing building at the University of Victoria. The building will be home to 398 students when complete in September 2022. (Photo courtesy of UVic)
VIDEO: Mass timber installation begins at UVic student housing project

Green technology plays key role in building that will be home to 398 University of Victoria students

Stanley Fischer (right) died while in a Victoria police jail cell hours after he was arrested on Nov. 15, 1981. Forty years later, his family is questioning his cause of death. (Photo courtesy of Mark Fischer)
Family wants investigation into man’s 1981 death while in Victoria police custody

Stanley Fischer’s death was ruled a suicide after he was found hanging in his jail cell

The Compost Education Centre is hosting its annual spring plant sale on May 8 at 1216 North Park St. Physical distancing protocols will be in effect during the sale, which runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. (Black Press Media file photo)
This weekend: Tenth annual spring plant sale hosted by Victoria Compost Education Centre

The non-profit event Saturday, May 8 will feature numerous varieties of plants, live music

Saanich police detectives are investigating a reported sexual assault that occurred near Glanford Park on the evening of Dec. 29, 2020 and have shared an artist’s rendering of the individual. (Image via Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers)
Saanich police release sketch of suspect sought in December sexual assault

Anyone with information asked to contact detectives, Crime Stoppers

(The Canadian Press)
Trudeau won’t say whether Canada supports patent waiver for COVID-19 vaccines

‘Canada is at the table to help find a solution’

A sign indicating face coverings are required by the establishment is pictured on the front door of a business in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. COVID-19 cases have been on a steady increase in the province of British Columbia over the past week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
A sign indicating face coverings are required by the establishment is pictured on the front door of a business in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. COVID-19 cases have been on a steady increase in the province of British Columbia over the past week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. to start releasing neighbourhood-specific COVID numbers after data leak

Documents obtained by the Vancouver Sun show cases broken down by neighbourhoods

Ladysmith RCMP safely escorted the black bear to the woods near Ladysmith Cemetary. (Town of Ladysmith/Facebook photo)
Black bear tranquillized, relocated after wandering around residential Ladysmith

A juvenile black bear was spotted near 2nd Avenue earlier Friday morning

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix update B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature, April 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 case count creeps up, seven more deaths

445 people in hospital, 157 in intensive care

Summerland’s positive test rate is much higher than surrounding local health areas, according to internal BC CDC documents. (BC CDC)
Summerland 3rd behind Surrey, Abbotsford in daily per capita COVID-19 cases

Interior Health is rolling out additional vaccine availability to the community

Amazon is pausing its Prime Day marketing event in Canada this year amid ongoing COVID-19 outbreaks at its facilities in Ontario. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Amazon Prime Day halted in Canada due to COVID-19 outbreaks in warehouses

The event was postponed to protect the health and safety of employees and customers, the company says

At this Highway 3 check point, police officers will be asking for identification from drivers, documentation regarding the driver’s name and address, and the purpose for the driver’s travel. (RCMP)
No fines handed out at 1st COVID-19 roadblock as checks move across B.C.

Cpl. Chris Manseau says a total of 127 vehicles were stopped at a roadblock in the Manning Park area

A spectator looks on as the Olympic Caldron is relit in downtown Vancouver, Wednesday, February 12, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Small majority of B.C. residents in favour of a Vancouver 2030 Olympic bid: survey

A new survey shows a split over the possibility of public money being spent to organize and host the winter games

Most Read