Province expanding COVID-19 rapid testing options

Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) CEO Scott Livingstone. (Government of Saskatchewan/Screenshot)

Rapid testing for COVID-19 will be expanding in the province in the near future. The rapid test kits allocated by the federal government will now be available in available in a variety of settings to test asymptomatic individuals.
Saskatchewan has created a strategy to deploy more than 700,000 rapid point-of-care tests received through a federal government allocation.  The tests will be used in a variety of settings including walk-in or drive-thru sites, mobile testing and pop-up testing sites.

In media availability on Thursday, Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) CEO Scott Livingstone explained that testing is an important part of the strategy in maintaining offensive work around containing, mitigating and delaying the virus spread.

“These are simple tests, are readily available and some of the new sites that will be included in this expansion include personal care homes, group homes, detox facilities, emergency shelters and schools. Rapid tests will also be made available to ambulance, police and fire services as well as pharmacy and dental offices for staff that work within those areas to insure that we are screening essential workers in those areas,” Livingstone said.

The tests are already available at over 150 long-term care facilities and over 100 areas in acute care.

Livingstone explained that the Medical Laboratory Licensing Regulations have been amended to exempt point of care COVID-19 specimen collection and testing sites from requiring a laboratory license when those sites have entered into an agreement with the Saskatchewan Health Authority.  He explained that the lab license was a barrier and was lifted because the test is simple and safe.

“These changes give us the ability to move swiftly to expand testing options,” Health Minister Paul Merriman said in a release. 

“We know that testing plays a crucial role in helping to curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus and now with variants of concern surfacing in our province it is more important than ever that testing is expanded to make it easier, quicker and more convenient to access.”

Many of these sectors may not have the capacity to use these tests on their own, so the Ministry of Health is working with SaskBuilds and Procurement to develop a Request for Pre-Qualifications (RFPQ) tender for third-party providers to deliver testing to these locations.  This will enhance the number and variety of venues where rapid testing is offered. Livingstone explained that one example of why the RFPQ tender was in place was for ambulance, fire and police and participating pharmacies and dental offices.

“This is going to take a little bit of time but we are committed to using these tests widely across many venues in the province as soon as possible. There are still some operational and logistic details to sort out but there is hope that the delivery and support for the expanded venues can happen over the next few weeks,” Livingstone said.

Livingstone stated that the program could move quicker in schools because they have existing public health infrastructure with public health staff to do testing.

The SHA is also looking at pop-up point of care testing sites and the ability for health care workers to carry out weekly surveillance testing on themselves.  The Ministry of Health and SHA will work with various sectors and provider groups to ensure training and support is in place to use these testing resources to their full potential.
Any rapid point-of-care tests that return a positive result will need to be retested to confirm the result using a PCR test with the Saskatchewan Health Authority labs.  However, negative tests do not need to be retested for confirmation, which is expected to reduce pressure on provincial lab resources.