May 14, 2021

Creative Destruction Lab develops workplace rapid COVID-19 testing program

Dozens of companies sign up to help keep employees and communities safer
COVID-19 rapid test devices.
Photo by Mika Baumeister on Unsplash

Last summer, as the pandemic raged around the world, Creative Destruction Lab (CDL) was looking for ways to help. The national network of entrepreneurs, investors and scientists develops science and technology companies that have “world-changing consumer ideas.”

As the pandemic devastated societies and locked down economies, the CDL community worked on producing ventilators or helping manufacture personal protective equipment (PPE). Within weeks, CDL decided to help workplaces with implementing rapid screening kits provided by the federal government, creating the CDL Rapid Screening Consortium. Testing asymptomatic employees frequently makes workplaces and communities safer by helping break chains of transmission, which also helps re-open economies faster.

“We've got 40-plus companies signed up,” says Mike Mackillop, director of operations at CDL-Rockies at the Haskayne School of Business. “We can now we give away this entire program, with the support of Health Canada, which has always been our goal.”

Mike Mackillop

Mike Mackillop.

Companies across Canada simply register on the websiteattend a kickoff meeting and get access to an online searchable set of operating procedures, best practices, and tools to implement workplace rapid antigen screening systems. CDL RSC worked with an original group of 12 companies, the founding consortium members, including Air Canada, Suncor and Rogers, to develop best practices in guiding the administration of rapid screening kits on thousands of employees.

“How can we get this down to something that can be administered for less than a dollar a test, that takes less than 10 minutes to do and it's 90 per cent effective for identifying infectiousness?” says Mackillop. “And then importantly, how do you record all this and send it back? One of the big pieces that goes along with the free distribution of screens is the collection of data on the number of asymptomatic people that are walking around.”

The original group spent several months piloting testing protocols and developing a comprehensive operations manual for other companies to use. “The whole key to this is trying to make sure that nobody has to relearn the same lessons and make the same mistakes that other people did,” says Mackillop. “Instead, they can come in and join this big community. That’s what CDL does, it builds these communities.”

Rapid tests play important role in identifying asymptomatic people

Mass rapid testing of asymptomatic employees identifies people when they are infectious, but because they don’t have any symptoms of COVID, they wouldn’t think of getting (or may not qualify) for a lab-based test through the health-care system. While more Canadians are receiving vaccines, it will be some time before the virus stops spreading. Employers screening workers is an important step in preventing outbreaks and keeping employees safe. 

While the original dozen companies were from different industries, a number of similar organizations are now signing up for the rapid screening program. “We've got a buddy system, where one company helps out another one and really helps them get online. There are industry partners within the banking industry, airlines, manufacturing, etcetera,” says Mackillop.

The original companies’ internal data, human resources and operations teams were instrumental in helping develop the best practices. “What we've always wanted to do is bring this down to ever-smaller businesses and make this accessible,” says Mackillop. “One business that just signed up is 15 optometrists. This runs the whole gamut from the very small to the very large and ideally, we would love to see this in any and every business.”

Mackillop says he’s “humbled” by the program CDL has helped bring to Canadian employers. “It's been pretty amazing to see what a collection of different companies from different industries and different schools and academics and people just come together and go, ‘Okay, let’s figure out what can we do to make this better.’  At the end of the day, the pandemic will get better with vaccine distribution. This is a way of keeping people safe in the meantime.”

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