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British Columbians unaware of COVID gargle test requirements miss out on less-invasive procedure

Last Updated Feb 3, 2021 at 7:24 am PST

Man is handed a saline solution and container ahead of a COVID-19 gargle test. (Courtesy PHSA)

VCH says people unfamiliar with procedure are missing out on less invasive COVID-19 test

A 30-second gargle test is available for people needing a COVID-19 if you can keep your mouth clean for an hour

Eating, drinking and smoking prohibited one hour ahead of gargle test

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — A 30-second gargle sounds a lot less invasive than having swab stuck down deep into your nose, but Vancouver Coastal Health says if you want the gentle version of the COVID-19 test, you need to follow pre-sampling instructions.

“VCH advises members of the public who wish to use the COVID-19 saline gargle device to avoid eating, drinking, vaping or smoking, brushing their teeth or chewing gum for at least one hour prior to taking this test,” says the health authority.

According to test collectors, people are arriving at collection sites expecting oral tests but are often unprepared and find themselves receiving a long, uncomfortable nasopharyngeal swab instead.

Many people have complained the nasal swab is uncomfortable and in some cases painful. It takes about 10 to 15 seconds and involves swirling the swab several times inside of the sinus.

The less-invasive alternative, saline-based gargle sampling involves swishing and swirling a solution in the mouth and throat for 30 seconds while a test collector supervises.


Saline gargle collection is currently available at 14 test collection sites across urban and rural VCH communities, and accounts for just over 30 per cent of all COVID-19 tests performed in the region.

The BCCDC has a video guide showing parents how to practice at home before heading into sampling sites with kids, and also has a guidance video for adults.

“VCH advises waiting at least two hours between practicing and doing the actual test collection to avoid affecting test results,” says the health authority.

Saline gargling was made available for school-aged children in September and made more widely-available by Vancouver Coastal Health in late November, 2020.

Test collection sites are listed on the VCH website.