Rapid tests for COVID yet to be deployed in schools; more variants in Regina area

·3 min read

REGINA — Rapid tests that screen for COVID-19 have yet to make their way into Saskatchewan schools, despite Premier Scott Moe saying last month they should have been deployed sooner.

Health Minister Paul Merriman says these tests are available to school divisions, and the government is working with those that want them.

He says the catch, however, is schools need a provider who can properly administer the tests to ensure the results are accurate.

Merriman says the government could use staff from the Saskatchewan Health Authority, but that would pull resources away from the health system.

He says the province is advertising to help find providers that can administer these tests.

A Regina Public Schools spokesman says the province has reached out about rapid testing, and the board is discussing it with the ministries of education and health, but there is no timeline for when tests may enter schools.

"If they do want the tests and they have the provider set up and all of that, we would be more than happy to provide them with those testing units," Merriman said Thursday at a briefing.

The Opposition NDP raised the lack of rapid testing in schools as some have reported cases from more contagious strains of COVID-19.

The number of likely variant cases continues to grow in the province, particularly in the Regina area.

Health officials say 368 of 433 probable variant cases are in and around the capital.

Most of the 135 confirmed cases from the mutation known as B.1.1.7 that was first identified in the United Kingdom have also been detected in the region.

In response to the Regina area's growing variant caseload, Merriman said the province is offering a vaccination drive-thru clinic, which recently expanded its age limit.

Health officials say the clinic is open for people 67 to 69 years old to get a first shot of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, which a national immunization committee now recommends for people 65 and older.

The clinic has been doing vaccinations since Monday.

Providing 15,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine for the Regina area has been part of the Saskatchewan Party government's strategy to deal with a rising caseload of more infectious COVID-19 strains.

On Thursday, another 115 new COVID-19 infections across the province were reported along with one death. There were 136 people in hospital, with 27 in intensive care.

The government reported having done around 118,000 vaccinations.

Saskatchewan also announced that people will get paid time off from work to get their first dose of vaccine.

The province said it has amended its occupational health and safety regulations to allow employees to get a special leave from their jobs to get inoculated.

The change took effect Thursday and means an employee is entitled to take three consecutive hours off to receive a shot without losing any pay or benefits.

The government said employees can take more than three hours off if an employer determines that's warranted.

A spokesman said the vaccination leave applies to people getting their first shot.

Saskatchewan is delaying second shots by up to four months to speed up how many people get their first dose. First shots offer some protection against COVID-19 and it's hoped the delay will achieve some level of herd immunity by mid-June.

Labour Minister Don Morgan said in a statement that he wants everyone in the province to get a shot.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 18, 2021

Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press