Province ramps up COVID-19 testing efforts

The Ministry of Health plans to ramp up testing efforts for returning travellers in an attempt to halt the spread of Coronavirus strain COVID-19.

There are no known cases of COVID-19 in Saskatchewan, although there are 22 in Ontario, 13 in B.C. and two in Quebec. Dr. Saqib Shahab, Saskatchewan’s chief medical health officer, said most of those cases are travel related, so the Ministry of Health plans to increase testing to make sure it doesn’t spread to Saskatchewan.

“The risk is low,” Shahab told reporters on Thursday. “We have no cases, but we are expanding the testing guidelines. If you have travelled from anywhere in the world, basically be aware of your symptoms.”

Patients will be tested with either nasal or throat swabs. It will take around two or three days to confirm the results.

Shahab said they’ve tested 45 possible cases of COVID-19 so far, and none have been positive. Results are still pending on an additional seven more.

Despite that, the ministry still plans to monitor returning travellers, particularly those coming back from high risk areas like Iran and the Chinese province of Hubei.

He’s also advising any residents who’ve travelled outside of the country to submit to voluntary testing, especially if they start to display symptoms like fevers, coughing and shortness of breath.

Residents should monitor their symptoms for two weeks, and if the symptoms continue, are advised to call Healthline 811.

“In some cases, countries have very good surveillance systems, like China and Italy, and you can trust those numbers,” Shahab said. “But you have to remember that many parts of the world still may not have a surveillance system. You just have to think through that. Just because a country is not reporting cases doesn’t mean they may not have it. You just have to do a bit of a risk assessment.”

Residents planning on travelling abroad may want to reconsider their travel plans, Shahab said, but ultimately it will be up to Saskatchewan residents to determine whether it’s worth the risk. He said travellers need to consider not only their chances of contracting the virus, but what kind of medical care they’re likely to receive abroad, or whether they’ll be allowed to return to Canada right away.

“It’s always a good time to do a risk assessment where your own health (is concerned) but right now it’s even more important,” he said.

Advice for travellers will be updated as research and data continues to grow.

All Saskatchewan residents should begin planning in case COVID-19 hits Saskatchewan, even if they have no plans to leave the province. Shahab said the biggest challenge if a pandemic hits will be making sure quarantined patients have enough food and water. He encouraged residents to talk with their relatives and neighbours about future plans, especially if they live in small towns.

Shahab added that there may be some cases where tests come back positive for Coronavirus, but not COVID-19. That’s because there are seven different groups of Coronavirus, and COVID-19 is just one of them. He reiterated that around 80 per cent of patients who have the virus will only experience mild symptoms and won’t require hospitalization.

Shahab said regular prevention measures, like washing hands and staying home if sick, and the best methods to prevent the spread of the disease. He also said wearing gloves and surgical masks will do little to stop the virus during a pandemic.

COVID-19 will have many symptoms in common with the common cold. The Ministry of Health says residents who have these symptoms but feel worse than a standard cold should see a healthcare provider or call Healthline 811. Anyone visiting a hospital or emergency room should call ahead to explain your symptoms and travel history so they can make the appropriate safety accommodations.

On Thursday, five new countries reported cases of COVID-19. More than 75 countries have reported at least one Coronavirus case.

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