Saskatchewan schools to get 100,000 rapid COVID-19 tests

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Regina – Saskatchewan K-12 schools across the province are currently being shipped 100,000 rapid tests. Rapid testing for COVID-19 in schools may begin as early as this week, the provincial government said in a March 22 press release.

It’s a measure the opposition New Democratic Party has been calling for repeatedly, as recently as late last week.

“A rapid testing program in schools is another excellent tool to help monitor the presence of COVID-19,” Education Minister Dustin Duncan said in a release. “The safety of students, teachers, and school staff is our government's priority, and school staff and students have done an excellent job in helping to prevent transmission of the virus.”

Teachers and school staff are not expected to administer the tests.

“Our goal is the health and safety of all Saskatchewan residents,” Health Minister Paul Merriman said. “This additional measure gives us another tool to monitor school environments and take further steps to protect the health and safety of staff and students if necessary.”

The rapid antigen tests use a short nasal swab and can be administered by laypeople who have completed a training program through the Saskatchewan Health Authority lab. Schools will work with their local medical health officers to determine when testing is appropriate and will work with parents and caregivers to ensure consent is in place.

A positive test requires confirmation by a Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test provided by the Saskatchewan Health Authority. A negative test does not need to be confirmed as long as the individual has no symptoms of COVID-19.

The School Testing Deployment Plan for COVID-19 is being implemented by the Saskatchewan Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Health, in collaboration with the Saskatchewan Health Authority.

NDP response

Official Opposition Critic for Education MLA Carla Beck said in an emailed statement on March 22, “We called for this because we spoke to many concerned school boards, teachers and parents and it’s good to see the government finally taking action, but the fact is it should never have taken this long. These tests have been sitting on government shelves going unused since December. If the government had acted immediately when they received these tests, we might have been able to contain the spread of variants in our schools much sooner. The reality is Premier Moe and his government have taken a reactive approach to protecting our teachers and students rather than a proactive one. The reason schools across the province are closing is because the premier failed to show leadership and act decisively in controlling the new wave of variants.”

Brian Zinchuk, Local Journalism Initiative reporter, Estevan Mercury