Manitoba expands COVID-19 testing criteria to anyone showing symptoms
Plan for economic reopening to be announced Wednesday, Pallister says
The criteria for Manitobans to get tested for the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is expanding to include all people with even mild symptoms of the illness, Premier Brian Pallister said Tuesday morning.
The expansion of testing is intended to give a clearer sense of the spread of the coronavirus in the province, which is needed before businesses and services closed by the pandemic can begin reopening, he said.
The plan for reopening Manitoba's shuttered economy will be unveiled on Wednesday, the premier said.
Pallister expects to triple the number of people being tested for COVID-19 by the end of summer.
WATCH | Manitoba expands COVID-19 testing:
"What we're looking to do by broadening the intake here, at least in its early days, is focused on giving … Manitobans that confidence that they need to have that they're not carrying the disease — that when they move around, when they shop, they're able to do so safely," Pallister said at a Tuesday morning news conference.
As of Tuesday, 23,857 tests had been performed in Manitoba since early February. That includes 321 tests completed on Monday.
There were no new cases of COVID-19 announced in the province Tuesday, leaving the total number of cases at 272. There were 57 active cases in the province as of Tuesday, with 209 people recovered from the illness.
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Seven people are being treated in hospital, with two in intensive care. Six Manitobans have died due to COVID-19.
"Our testing capacity has increased, and many more people can be tested than are seeking a test at this time," said Dr. Brent Roussin, the chief provincial public health officer, at Tuesday afternoon's daily COVID-19 update.
To meet the expected increase in demand under the new testing criteria, Ontario-based Dynacare will do more tests.
Most of Manitoba's tests have been done at Cadham Provincial Lab, the province's primary public health lab, which can do more than 1,000 tests per day.
Dynacare has been analyzing some test samples for Manitoba since early April, so far completing more than 500 tests.
The province has reached an agreement with Dynacare to have the private lab do up to 2,000 tests per day by the end of summer, which will increase provincial capacity to 3,000 tests a day.
Dynacare will work to establish a second COVID-19 testing lab in Winnipeg to help speed up the testing process, the province said in a news release.
"Having that additional testing capacity is a really important advantage for us long-term," Pallister said. "Not just for COVID, but for other testing that Dynacare has had experience in doing for Manitobans for some time."
The increased testing capacity should shorten the turnaround time for test results, Pallister said.
Bob Moroz, president of the Manitoba Association of Health Care Professionals, supports the expanded testing and increasing testing capacity. But he is concerned that bringing in Dynacare could lead to further privatization of the health-care system after the pandemic.
"We have a fully functioning lab system throughout the province," said Moroz, whose organization represents lab technologists and assistants working for Shared Health.
"Lab [services] are definitely the future for this pandemic and for the next one. We need to make sure that our lab services are not placed in a position where it's a for-profit for the benefit of stockholders," he said.
Roussin speculated Tuesday that Dynacare was chosen because "it was probably the most expeditious way to go," noting the private company is certified and is already part of Manitoba's COVID-19 reporting system.
Although the criteria have expanded, screening will still be required before a person can get tested.
Those who believe they are showing symptoms of COVID-19 can call Health Links-Info Santé at 204-788-8200 or toll-free at 1-888-315-9257 for more information.
Cough, fever, difficulty breathing and pneumonia in both lungs are among the symptoms of the novel coronavirus, Health Canada says.
The Centers for Disease Control in the United States has listed other symptoms to watch out for, saying patients may have the virus if they suffer at least of two of the following: fever, chills, repeated shaking with chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat or new loss of taste or smell.
Possibility of 2nd wave
While the number of new cases of COVID-19 identified in Manitoba in recent days has been relatively small, the province has to be prepared for a greater circulation of the virus as the economy starts to reopen, said Roussin.
"We need to be able to ensure our testing capacity is wide so that we can still actively find cases, do aggressive contact tracing, and limit the spread further," he said, but "we feel that we're in a good spot right now with our capacity."
Testing had previously been limited in Manitoba to people who were symptomatic and at risk of contracting or spreading the coronavirus, including returning travellers, front-line health-care workers and first responders, anyone in an intensive care unit or personal care home with respiratory symptoms, and anyone living on a First Nation, in a prison or at a remote location, such as a work camp.
"We had limited capacity and we wanted to focus on the most vulnerable people first," Pallister said Tuesday.
He hopes expanded testing will increase Manitobans' confidence in their ability to be protect each other.
However, if Manitobans stop following health orders such as physical distancing and proper hand-washing techniques as the province reopens, "there's a real danger" there will be a second wave of the virus, Pallister said.
A second wave would mean businesses and services would have to shut down again.
"That's entirely in Manitobans' hands," Pallister said. "We need to make sure that doesn't happen."
With files from Bartley Kives