Meili calls on province to ramp up COVID-19 testing and tracing of contacts

NDP leader Ryan Meili. (Herald file photo)

Saskatchewan NDP leader Ryan Meili is calling on the provincial government to increase its COVID-19 testing.

During the province’s COVID-19 update on Friday, Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab said they’re prioritizing testing for “people who need it the most,” such as health care workers and those in long-term care facilities.

But Meili says this isn’t a good move in the wake of community spread, which he says has been going on for weeks. He referred to a snowmobile rally in Christopher Lake held on Mar. 14, which has led to 20 cases as of Sunday.

Shahab, however, is saying cases are the result of “local transmission” if they can’t be traced back to a source.

As of Monday, the province said at least eight cases are the result of local transmission. The rest are travel-related or cluster-related from mass gatherings like the snowmobile rally.

“This is not the time to be rationing testing. This is the time to be ramping up testing and tracing of contacts—It is right now,” said Meili.

“I’ve been talking to people who have called 811, had symptoms, had a good reason to be tested and are getting told to just self-isolate.”

He said he believes the province has the capacity to do so because there’s no shortage of testing supplies.

“At a certain point, if it gets so widespread, the testing doesn’t matter as much. Right now, as we try to keep this under control and keep it from spreading, that testing and tracing is key.”

Communication lacking from provincial government, says NDP leader

In addition to ramping up testing, Meili said the province needs to release more information on Saskatchewan’s cases of COVID-19.

Last week, the government began releasing more information on COVID-19-related hospitalizations, specifying how many patients are in acute care and how many are in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU).

While this is a positive step, said Meili, Saskatchewan residents outside of Saskatoon and Regina still don’t know how their communities are being impacted.

“It’s happening in Estevan, the people in Estevan should know that,” he said, adding it further motivates people to prevent the spread in their own communities.

On Monday, the province announced two people who had COVID-19 have died in hospital. It wouldn’t release which part of the province the deaths occurred, however, placing ’N/A’ on the chart showing a province-wide breakdown of the cases.

COVID-19 cases as of Monday. The provincial government isn’t releasing where deaths occurred. (Government of Saskatchewan/Website)

“I first want to say to the friends and family of those who have died that our thoughts are with you in this moment of loss. To the rest of the province, I know that we are all anxious about the impact of COVID-19 on our lives and our families. We will get through this challenging time together, even as we stay apart to slow the spread,” Meili said in a news release in response to the deaths.

“Today’s news reminds us how important it is for us to maintain physical distancing measures, for people to stay home as much as possible and to avoid gatherings.”

While the province is live-streaming its regular updates and sent out emergency notifications on cellphones, Meili added the province isn’t taking advantage of further levels of communication.

“We need to see some public-facing ad campaigns, television ads, online, on radio so that people know exactly how serious this is, exactly what it is we’re facing and exactly what they can do,” he said.

He said many Saskatchewan residents are still unclear about the symptoms of the virus.

“The level of anxiety that people are feeling about what’s likely to happen here in Saskatchewan is going up and up,” added Meili. 

This stems from patterns in other parts of the world such as Europe and the United States, he said. The United States, for example, currently has about 160,000 cases, while Canada has approximately 7,300.