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YVR, WestJet preparing COVID-19 rapid test pilot for takeoff

Vancouver International Airport and WestJet are aiming to get a COVID-19 rapid test pilot up and running some time in November.
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Vancouver International Airport and WestJet are aiming to get a COVID-19 rapid test pilot up and running some time in November.

Rather than target specific routes, testing will be carried out in a four-hour daily window in order to capture WestJet’s departing domestic flights, said YVR’s vice-president of operations and maintenance, Robyn McVicker, and Billy Nolen, WestJet’s vice-president of safety, security and quality, in a joint announcement posted to the airport’s website on Monday.

“The pilot will target Lower Mainland residents to ensure anyone testing positive can easily return home,” said McVicker and Nolen.

Meanwhile, Citizen Care Pod will provide a “ready-made testing station,” located on the curb outside WestJet’s domestic check-in area at YVR, according to Monday’s announcement.

McVicker and Nolen say the 40-foot pod will provide “a private, safe and comfortable environment” to carry out testing. The pod will also be climate-controlled and utilize HEPA filters “to ensure the air is as sterile as any hospital environment.”

A spokesperson for YVR said the pod will only be in place for the pilot study and is not a permanent solution.

YVR is also developing a web portal and will likely have passengers sign up in advance for testing, according to the spokesperson.

“The testing will entail a straightforward process – a brief consult with research coordinators prior to undergoing testing, followed by a short questionnaire before receiving results – and will not add much time to the airport journey,” said McVicker and Nolen.

In a poll of 1,966 passengers, nearly two-thirds of those polled “expressed strong support” for rapid-testing at the airport, said McVicker and Nolen.

Earlier this month, YVR and WestJet announced the University of British Columbia would help select the test used in the pilot program.

As part of the program – first announced in August – passengers could receive their test results prior to boarding their flight.

Data collected from the program will help inform protocol at YVR and WestJet, and will also be shared with health authorities to support public health knowledge and decision-making around COVID-19 testing and tracing in B.C.

The pilot testing program is being reviewed first by the UBC ethics board, said the spokesperson.

Last week, the federal government and Alberta announced a joint pilot testing program – the first of its kind in Canada – which would reduce the mandatory 14-day quarantine for international travellers with rapid testing.

COVID-19 testing will be carried out at Calgary International Airport and the Coutts land border crossing. While passengers who receive the test would still have to go into quarantine, they would be allowed to leave if the test comes back negative and if they commit to a second test six or seven days after they arrive in Canada.

The Alberta pilot program will launch Nov. 2.