Schools across Saskatchewan will be receiving 100,000 rapid testing kits for COVID-19.
The schools will receive their share of the rapid testing kits throughout this week.
Minister of Education Dustin Duncan explains that the kits will be distributed according to the number of enrolled students.
“They’re distributed to school divisions on a per-student basis. So basically it breaks down by the ratio of students in the different divisions. We started shipping them out early this week and we expect that they will be in schools for distribution in school divisions that do want to use them as early as this week.
“So the 100,000 that we’re distributing as part of this round is all on a per-student basis. So basically you take the 100,000 and you look at how many students are in each of the school divisions. So they’ll receive the same amount per enrolled student in the school division.”
He explains that the kits will be distributed to school divisions, which can then distribute the kits to schools as needed.
“Southeast Cornerstone will receive just under 4,500 tests for the entire school division. It works out to about one test for every two students that you have. Basically, whatever number of students are in Moosomin schools, they will receive 50 per cent in terms of the number of kits for example.
“The school divisions do have the ability based on where the needs may be. They have the ability to ship those around. So they may want to put more into one school or less. But that’s really up to the school divisions.”
The test itself will be administered by volunteers who can complete a course courtesy of the Saskatchewan Health Authority.
Duncan explains that the only requirement is that the volunteers be over the age of 18.
“I think so. I think basically it’s really open to anybody, again anybody over the age of 18. Basically right now it’s a Webex training session, it’s a pretty short training session that the Saskatchewan Health Authority puts on. In the next couple of weeks, the SHA hopes to have an online version of it that would be basically like a YouTube type of video that they can access. Really anybody can take that Webex training now or in a couple of weeks they can take the online training.
“You don’t need to be a nurse, you don’t need to be licensed or a healthcare provider. It can really just be anybody over the age of 18.”
The Government of Saskatchewan faced backlash after failing to deploy the tests earlier, despite having received them.
Duncan says that there were some silver linings to holding the tests, however.
“I think earlier on, when we were first distributing, we received around 700,000 of these tests from the federal government. Earlier on we were really focusing on using them in places like personal care homes, long-term care facilities, seniors centres, those areas of the province, and those types of settings in the province where cases correlated to higher infection rates and higher hospitalization rates and unfortunately higher fatality rates. So we’re really focused there, because we know that in schools transmission had really been minimal. At this point, even students that have tested positive have had a lesser effect than our more senior population. So we really focused on getting those out to the high-risk population. Another thing that has changed, and it isn’t a reason why we delayed them but I think it is one of the benefits of the delay, when they were shipped out by the federal government they were shipped out with the long nasal swab. Anybody who has had a COVID test knows that it’s the longer swab that goes into the back of the nose. And that was the swab that was shipped with these. As soon as we received them, Health Canada had actually approved the shorter nasal swab. So when you’re looking at younger children, it’s a lot easier and a lot more manageable to maneuver the shorter nasal swab into the nose rather than the deeper one that goes back further, so a little bit more manageable than the other.”
Duncan says that the province has done well with testing capacity so far, noting that the province has only hit the maximum test capacity a handful of times.
“Another thing about all this is that we have about a 4,000 test capacity across the province and we have only on a few occasions hit that capacity. So there’s always been available testing capacity in the system for people that were concerned, like families with students that were concerned, it was never that without these rapid tests we didn’t have capacity. We have always had the capacity and we have only on a couple of days used that full capacity.”
Many parents, teachers, students, and staff are concerned about the COVID-19 variants making their way to smaller communities, but Duncan says that efforts are being made to prevent the spread of the variants.
He also says that most schools in the province have plans in the event of an outbreak.
“I think that there is concern about the potential of the spread of the variant beyond Regina, which is why yesterday (March 23rd) Dr. Shahab issued an advisory and recommendation to, if at all possible, not travel in and out of Regina. There are contingencies already in place, whether it’s the original strain of COVID or one of these variants as a part of the $155 million that we’ve provided to school divisions this year to deal with any contingency issues that may come up. We know already that schools in Regina and the surrounding area are moving to remote learning to try and reduce the community spread of COVID-19, so we expect that would be the same in the event that there are, regardless of the strain, COVID-19 cases. I think that there are plans already in place by the school divisions to move to the different contingency levels to mitigate the spread among our student population and staff.”
Schools will work with their local medical health officers to determine when testing is appropriate.
Spencer Kemp, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The World-Spectator