Sask. expanding rapid testing capabilities amid coronavirus variant concerns

Saskatchewan is expanding its rapid-testing capabilities as concerns rise over coronavirus variants.

The province is set to deploy more than 700,000 rapid tests, which were procured through a federal government allocation, according to a Thursday news release.

“These safe and simple tests will be used in a variety of settings including walk-in or drive-thru sites, mobile testing and pop-up testing sites,” the province’s news release said.

“Tests will also be available for ambulance, fire and police and participating pharmacies and dental offices.”

The tests will also be offered to to long-term and personal care homes, shelters, group homes and schools, the province said.

The Ministry of Health said it’s developing a tender for third-party providers to conduct the tests, since care homes, shelters, schools and others won’t likely have the capacity or training to administer the tests on their own. 

“I think we need to use testing even more now because of the variants of concern,” Dr. Saqib Shahab, the province’s chief medical health officer, said Thursday. 

Scott Livingstone, CEO of the Saskatchewan Health Authority, added that provincial legislation had been amended so that the places where the tests are being deployed don’t need a lab licence. The change allows for a quicker expansion of testing services in the province. 

“There isn’t a point-of-care test that’s going to expire in the province of Saskatchewan,” Livingstone said. 

“We’ll have them used well in advance of that,” he said.

With coronavirus variants “as well as a slower than what we want immunization strategy because of vaccine supply, this extra testing is going to go a long way to put a bigger safety blanket across many areas,” said Livingstone.

Any positive results from a rapid test will have to be confirmed with a lab test. A negative test does not need to be retested for confirmation. 

Shahab says that it’s normal for testing rates to fluctuate depending on how much COVID-19 is spreading in the community, but that it’s important to keep testing above a certain level. He didn’t have an exact number for that level.

“Testing rates sometimes also start trending down and that’s not very good, because then you can start missing COVID,” he said.

“We’ve already had situations where people were delaying testing testing even though they were symptomatic.”

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