The School of Optometry and Vision Sciences’ main clinic is participating in a provincial COVID-19 testing pilot program. The Panbio rapid antigen testing delivers test results in 15 minutes, compared to the 48-hour wait time from other testing kits.
The testing is available for 15 hours each week and is administered by a registered nurse for staff and students.
“I think it’s a great way of approaching things, because they offered it to large corporations as well. Places like Toyota have used it. They’re offering it to some of the larger EMS groups, police services, fire and ambulance & long-term care facilities,” Dr. Clark Baldwin, Medical Director of the university, said.
Dr. Baldwin explained that the pilot program began at the university with the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Colleges and Universities’ collaboration to provide schools with Panbio rapid testing kits for staff and post-secondary students. Originally scheduled to last eight weeks, the program has the potential to be extended to six months.
Dr. Baldwin said that he and Health Services were interested in collaborating with other parts of the campus to facilitate a “stratified approach.” Although the testing kits are provided free of charge, the university has to facilitate the testing, including administering the tests and analysis.
Dr. Baldwin had begun talks with Dr. Andre Stanberry, Clinic Director, and Dr. Stan Woo, Director of the School of Optometry and Vision Sciences, about the School’s interest in the rapid testing.
Dr. Stanberry said the optometry clinic at the university hosts 27,000 patient visits annually.
“[It was] very exciting when this became a possibility in December and especially [because] we had our students headed back home for the holidays and there were concerns with everybody across the country and the provinces, with being away and coming back, were uncertain, what was coming with them as well,” Dr. Stanberry said.
The rapid testing began in January, after the winter break. Every student and staff member of the School of Optometry who wanted to be tested had the opportunity to do so, Dr. Stanberry said.
“We have offered it to other groups [on campus] and I would really like to expand that, as other post-secondary institutions are telling me that they’re doing in Ontario, to a bigger audience. We’re still working all those details out, but we’re really using it, I think partly to help [the] province evaluate the utility of it [Panbio rapid testing],” Dr. Baldwin said. “It’s just another good item we can use in the fight against COVID-19.”
If possible, Dr. Stanberry and Dr. Baldwin are interested in extending the program to the end of the term and further.
“I know other groups are very supportive of continuation of this and I’ve shown our interest to the Ministry,” Dr. Baldwin said he was told that the University of Guelph began the pilot program last week. “I think they’ll let us continue until everyone reaches their eight week point. I would say yes, there is at least interest, I just ordered some more kits.”
“With us being the program that we are, I think we look to be a leader in optometry across the country, and this is an example of how we can take the lead and show what might be possible in many optometry practices across the country as well,” Dr. Stanberry said.
There are two optometry schools in Canada – one here at UW and one in Quebec. He hopes other programs in the future can institute similar practices and use the School of Optometry and Vision Sciences as a template.
“I thank Clark and his team for their continued support, without their efforts we wouldn’t have been able to launch the pilot as we have been able to… I just want to thank Clark for his support and the university for their support in being able to move this project forward,” Dr. Stanberry said, extending his gratitude towards Dr. Baldwin.
“I think of course there’s bigger and better things to come too from the campus in regards to what you’ll be hearing about for School of Pharmacy vaccinations and other initiatives with vaccinations, we’re in discussions with, again just a piece of the puzzle, but we’re almost there, when you’re on the 401 you see the turn-off sign, I see the COVID turn-off sign is coming,” Dr. Baldwin said.
“The University of Waterloo has an important community-facing role to play in health, and it’s wonderful to see Pharmacy, Optometry, and the Health Services teams work collaboratively to support regional public health efforts to combat COVID-19. I’m grateful for the hard work and dedication of Drs. Grindrod, Stanberry, and Baldwin and look forward to the continued benefits of rapid testing and vaccination for COVID-19,” Dr. Stanley Woo, Director of the School of Optometry & Vision Science, said in an emailed statement.