My Experience: The Switch RT-LAMP Test
I needed a test to return home to Canada on my recent trip to Spain. Typically, I would have no problem sourcing a local test in the area, but being tight on time and not knowing where I would be staying made me want a more convenient option - enter Switch Health.
Switch Health, a Canadian-based health care company that offers in-person testing at some Canadian airports began offering take-home test kits in October in collaboration with Air Canada. They currently offer PCR tests, antigen tests, and RT-LAMP tests, the latter of which are admissible for re-entry to Canada.
While Spain, and most of the EU, do not require an entry test, Canada still requires a molecular-based test. Typically, the media and those-out-of-the-know generalize this as being limited to only PCR tests. Contrary to popular belief, the Canadian government accepts nearly 20 other tests, RT-LAMP being one.
The Switch Health test kit is self-administered and done under video supervision over an online portal with a Switch nurse.
RT-LAMP tests are handy because, unlike PCRs and other molecular tests, they do not need to be sent to a lab; the test can run independently, and results are ready in 30 minutes. For travelers, this quick result means you can use one test to visit multiple countries in short succession.
Buying the Test
As a unique product in the Canadian space, the RT-LAMP tests sell out very frequently. I was lucky to snag two kits after being on the waitlist for a couple of weeks. The tests sold out a few hours after I bought mine.
Priced at $150 each, the price is comparable to local options in countries in western Europe. Spanish tests were around 80 euros, but adding in the convenience of testing in your own home and the speed of the test, Switch tests are a compelling value proposition. Of course, if you’re in a cheaper area, notably South America or Turkey, where tests are available for $30 each, the value proposition decreases.
As a bonus, Aeroplan members receive 500 points for each kit they buy. While not a lot, it’s a nice kickback and does post as EQD immediately after purchase. This is an excellent addition if you’re after some points to meet your 100K goals or want a headstart for 2022 qualifying.
The actual kit is a Lucira Check It test kit and not even rebranded, either. Annoyingly, it can be bought and shipped to US addresses from Lucira’s website at nearly half the cost. A drawback of being Canadian?
Notably, the Lurica test kit is currently the only self-collection test kit approved by the government.
The box itself is of a decent size (8’ x 4’ x 2’) and can’t bend or be compressed, so if you’re taking only a carry-on, it’ll be important to think about fitting it.
To run the test, you will need:
Decent internet connection
Mobile device with a camera
Switch provides (everything else):
Your identifying QR code
And the test can be done anywhere in the world.
Taking the Test
Before opening everything up, you’ll have to register with ASMO, Switch’s online video platform. You can test multiple people in the same tele-session, just make sure to add them as dependents on your ASMO account before initiating the testing session.
The QR codes that come in the box are unique to you. When scanned, they’re linked to your user profile, making it known that the test is yours and no one else tampered with it. Two are included in the box. One is a backup, as they are very finicky to attach. The QR codes have an anti-tamper tear in them already, so they can’t be adjusted once placed. It’s important to be accurate and follow the picture outlined in the instructions.
To start the online session, you need to first attach the QR code to your device without covering the sensors or lights on the device. You then activate the QR code by initiating the ASMO session and capturing the QR code with your camera.
A representative will join the other end of the session and walk you through the process. We never waited more than five minutes, and that seems to line up with other people’s experiences, despite being told they are very busy.
I went first and needed to confirm my identity. This involved verbal confirmation of my birthday and showing my passport to the camera. I also needed to confirm that my nose was blown, my hands were clean, and my QR code was affixed to the device by flipping my camera and showing it.
The first step was to put the batteries in the testing device. Then we were instructed to open the testing vial, filled with purple liquid that can test for the presence of the virus, and lightly place it into the receptacle in the testing device.
Secondly, it is swabbing. The test itself is not invasive at all. It seems that the days of “brain-tickler” tests are long gone. This swab goes no more than half an inch in your nose. You’re instructed to rotate the swab, touching all surface areas in each nostril, for 15 seconds on each side.
Once completed, the same motion is made, but this time it’s for 15 seconds in the purple liquid in the testing vial. Once done, snap the vial closed, push down (hard), and the test runs.
In about 30 minutes, the test completes, and your result shows up. From there, you snap a picture of the device with your QR code visible through the ASMO health portal, and you will receive a written copy of your results which are good to get you back into Canada.
Our written results came in about 5 minutes of uploading.
It’s best practice to take the photo quickly and set a timer as the batteries don’t last forever. Even though our tests continued to be powered on throughout the night, the representatives mentioned that the batteries usually die after 45 minutes, so being quick is important.
Anecdotally, I think it’s important to speak about my experiences boarding a plane home.
I took the test about 68 hours before my scheduled departure home.
Oddly, the test results are in EST and CEST, neither being the time zone of Spain, which is an hour behind the latter. If you take the EST time zone at face value, my test results would be invalid. However, when converted to the time zone of the test (which is what the criteria for re-entry is based on), the results are acceptable.
I had an issue with Lufthansa checking the documents in Munich. They had questions about the validity of the RT-LAMP (seemingly, everyone still gets PCRs to enter Canada) and the time zone.
The acceptance of the RT-LAMP was answered immediately when they looked at their screen, but the time zone required a good ten minutes of digging on their end.
Because the lab address is written down as your home address, in my case, Vancouver, they thought I did the test in Vancouver.
So now I had a lab in PST, a test result in EST and CEST, but boarding a plane in CET. Four different time zones, and Lufthansa wanted to do some conversions.
To give them credit, I didn’t need to do any convincing or haul-up proof, the agents just informed me that they needed a few extra minutes to convert the time zones and make sure it lined up.
After ten minutes, I was ushered toward the gate area, soon boarding home.
My experience seemed to be a hiccup of a Lufthansa representative who had never seen one of these test types and a conglomeration of time zones.
Without a doubt, I would do one of these tests again. I do think these tests are a game-changer in certain places. As mentioned, cheap test availability in South America and other nations makes this test less compelling, but some individuals might find comfort in the ease of use and quick results.
I recommend this test unless you are going to a cheap testing place and are comfortable arranging testing yourself (or getting your hotel concierge to do it).