Sask. health authority apologizes for COVID-19 lab error, reverses outbreak declarations

·3 min read
Scott Livingstone, the CEO of the Saskatchewan Health Authority, apologized for the testing error on Tuesday. (Guy Quenneville/CBC - image credit)
Scott Livingstone, the CEO of the Saskatchewan Health Authority, apologized for the testing error on Tuesday. (Guy Quenneville/CBC - image credit)

Health officials are apologizing for a lab error that resulted in 206 false-positives and are accordingly reversing their declaration of outbreaks in some Regina nursing homes.

"I just want to reiterate and express our apologies for any disruption that this caused, and the worry that goes with it, to the families and their loved ones and everyone else out there," said Dr. Rashaad Hansia, the physician executive for integrated urban health for the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA).

On Monday, health officials flagged what they termed newly confirmed or suspected outbreaks at seven nursing homes in Regina. No infection numbers were given out, as testing was said to be in flux.

On Tuesday, the Ministry of Health said a problem occurred at the Roy Romanow Provincial Lab in Regina leading to a large number of invalid tests dated from Aug. 18 to 22.

"We are now confident in our testing processes going forward," said Scott Livingstone, the CEO of the Saskatchewan Health Authority.

Out of the 255 invalid tests, 206 proved to be false positives.

Fifty-four of the 206 false positives came from the Regina nursing homes that were said to be experiencing confirmed or suspected outbreaks. Two confirmed cases are needed in a long term care facility for an outbreak to be officially declared.

The remaining 152 false positives came from people in Saskatchewan's general population, mostly from the Regina area.

All of the 54 long-term care residents initially told they were positive for COVID-19 have now been informed they are in fact COVID-free, while efforts remain ongoing to contact all the false positives from the general population.

Visitation rules relaxed in light of error

Tuesday's confirmation of the error — which was initially detected at the lab on Monday — resulted in a swift turnabout in status for several Regina long-term care homes affected by the original test results.

On Monday, outbreaks were declared at Parkside Extendicare, Regina Lutheran Home, Pioneer Village and some units at Wascana Rehab Centre, while outbreaks were suspected at Extendicare's Sunset and Elmview homes as well as Santa Maria Senior Citizens Home.

Twenty-four hours later, upon the discovery of the testing errors, only Extendicare Elmview, Pioneer Village and the mental health unit at Wascana Rehab Centre had declared or suspected outbreaks.

Visitation rules have been relaxed at the homes said to no longer be in outbreak.

No infected residents from these homes are in hospital, officials said.

Opposition says urgent action needed at homes

Before the testing errors were known, Saskatchewan's Opposition party called on the provincial government to require all health care workers and visitors to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 amidst the situation at the Regina care homes.

Ryan Meili, the leader of the Saskatchewan NDP, spoke Tuesday in front of Pioneer Village, one of the seven Regina care homes dealing with several new cases of COVID-19.

"We do believe that the vast majority of health care staff are stepping up, but there are some who haven't got there yet," Meili said. "And we need to make sure that anyone who's got patient contact, resident contact, is doubly vaccinated."

Dayne Patterson/CBC
Dayne Patterson/CBC

Meili even suggested the province should call workers who are not fully vaccinated to ask, "What's in the way? How can we help you get this vaccine? How can we answer your questions?"

"And, yes, we need to make it a requirement that if you're going to go to work, you need to be vaccinated," he said.

Meili also said the province needs to do mass testing in all long-term care facilities and begin developing a third-dose vaccine strategy for seniors and priority health care workers.

In a followup statement, the party said its recommendations stand despite the testing errors.

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