Dr. Jared Bullard

Courtesy CBC

A microbiologist in Manitoba testified this week 56% of positive COVID-19 cases are not infectious, says the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms.

The JCCF is in the Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench representing seven churches and three individuals who say public health orders violate Charter rights of freedom of conscience, religion, expression and peaceful assembly. 

One of the crucial issues in the trial is the operation and reliability of the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test that is used by health authorities across Canada, including in Manitoba, to diagnose COVID-19 and measure its spread.

In testimony last week, Manitoba’s chief public health officer, Dr. Brent Roussin, said PCR tests have accurately predicted future levels of hospitalization in Manitoba. During the pandemic’s second wave, 7% of all individuals in the province who tested positive were hospitalized and 1.4% were admitted to ICU. 

The vast majority of cases detected through PCR tests are infectious, Roussin testified.

“There’s too much being made of the limitations of very, very good [PCR] tests, especially how we’re using it,” said Roussin.

But the JCCF said their experts, Dr. Jay Bhattacharya and Dr. Thomas Warren, both provided evidence the PCR test is unreliable in determining whether a person is infectious with the actual COVID-19 disease, said the JCCF in a release.

The JCCF also noted Dr. Jared Bullard, the associate medical director of Cadham Lab, testifying for the Crown, acknowledged under cross-examination the PCR test has limitations. It said Bullard admitted that PCR test results do not verify infectiousness, and were never intended to be used to diagnose respiratory illnesses.

“Dr. Bullard testified that PCR tests can be positive for up to 100 days after an exposure to the virus, and that PCR tests do nothing more than confirm the presence of fragments of viral RNA of the target SARS CO-V2 virus in someone’s nose. He testified while a person with COVID-19 is infectious for a one-to-two week period, non-viable (harmless) viral SARS CO-V2 fragments remain in the nose, and can be detected by a PCR test for up to 100 days after exposure.

JCCF said Bullard testified the most accurate way to determine whether someone is actually infectious is to attempt to grow a cell culture in the lab from a patient sample. If a cell culture will not grow, a patient is likely not infectious. A study from Dr. Bullard and his colleagues found only 44% of positive PCR test results would actually grow in the lab.

“Dr. Bullard’s findings call into question the practice used in Manitoba (and elsewhere in Canada) of the results of classifying positive PCR tests as “cases,” which implies infectivity. Equating positive PCR tests to infectious cases, as so many provinces have done over the course of the past 13 months, is incorrect and inaccurate,” said the JCCF.

“Finally, it should be noted some Canadian news agencies have quoted Dr. Bullard as testifying that a positive PCR tests indicates infectivity 99.9% of the time. This is incorrect.”

In earlier testimony, court heard there were 22 COVID-19 clusters in faith-based settings, with some outbreaks infecting half of the attendees.

Manitoba had almost 43,000 cases of COVID-19 resulting in 997 deaths.

The trial is expected to last the rest of the week.

Dave Naylor is the News Editor of the Western Standard

News Editor & Calgary Bureau Chief

Dave Naylor is News Editor & Calgary Bureau Chief of the Western Standard based in the Calgary Headquarters. He served as City Editor of the Calgary Sun & covered Alberta news for nearly 40 years.

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