The rapidly spreading Omicron variant of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 has arrived in Saskatchewan, and doctors say taking a rapid test is one way to be cautious and enjoy the holidays safely.
On Thursday, Premier Scott Moe said testing "needs to be more normalized in the weeks and months ahead."
Dr. Nazeem Muhajarine, a professor of community health and epidemiology at the University of Saskatchewan's college of medicine, said earlier this week that rapid tests should be used on the day of an event or party, the day of arrival after travelling, or if you feel ill.
If you have symptoms of COVID-19, a standard coronavirus test is advised.
Over eight million rapid test kits have been distributed to date, according to the province, with an additional four million on the way.
A complete list of all the places in the province that provide free rapid tests is available here. It includes public libraries, pharmacies, town halls, fire halls and Co-op stores.
Up north in La Ronge, the manager of the Co-op Gas Bar told CBC they have more rapid tests than they known what to do with, and says they are available to anyone to pick up.
Down south, Mark Black, a branch manager at Regina Public Libraries, says that after Moe's announcement on Thursday, the demand for rapid tests nearly tripled at each library branch.
"We went from … maybe handing out 100 kits a day to, at some of the busier branches, handing out almost 400 kits a day," Black said.
"The uptake has been wild."
Black says whenever the branches have been low on rapid test stock, they have been quickly replenished.
"We're always just a hair away from running out or not having any. And then magically it shows up … and we're back up and running."
WATCH | How to take a rapid test:
The people who are picking up the tests say they want to be cautious and check their health, Black says.
"What we're seeing is where relatives are coming [from other communities] ... and people want to make sure that they're OK before they see nephews or nieces or, you know, other other family members."
And as an extra bonus, many people who head to a Regina library branch for a rapid test also end up grabbing a library card.
"This has been a win-win for us," Black said.
It's also good to see people being proactive about their health, he said.
"It's a positive in a time when we're kind of having not very many positives."
Getting rid of stock
Rob Clark, CEO of the Moose Jaw and District Chamber of Commerce, says uptake of rapid tests has been high there as well — especially with reports of the rapid spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant.
"They're coming in pretty fast and furious and getting as many as they can," he said. "They all want to stop the spread."
The chamber of commerce still has plenty of rapid test stock, he said. It will close on Dec. 24 until Jan. 3, and hopes to distribute all of its tests before then.
"I think our biggest concern here now is that people get in here and get them before the holiday ... when you start socializing a wee bit."
The chamber of commerce has given out 4,000 tests so far, Clark said, adding the tests are a great way to ensure family is safe.
"It's a great peace of mind."