Tap into Manitoba's scientific community for help during pandemic, scientist says

A microbiology expert says more can be done to address the backlog in novel coronavirus testing in Manitoba and beyond.

Province currently getting help from U of M and Red River College students, Dynacare

U of M assistant professor Jason Kindrachuk says the province should tap into the scientific community to help test for novel coronavirus. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

An emerging diseases expert says more can be done to address the backlog in novel coronavirus testing in Manitoba and beyond.

Jason Kindrachuk, an associate professor at the University of Manitoba and a Canada research chair in emerging diseases, says provinces should be asking the medical community for more help.

"That frustrates me, because I think we have all these really talented people here that do this as part of their daily lives and are interested in helping with the public health and in particularly during public health crises," Kindrachuk said in a phone interview Thursday.

"We need to take better utilization of those resources. It just simply does not make sense not to." 

Kindrachuk is especially concerned about the backlog in testing. There are many people in the province who are capable of helping out and have the equipment to do so, he said.

Kindrachuk says Manitoba is home to talented researchers with lab and field experience who could contribute a great deal to the fight against COVID-19. (John Minchillo/The Associated Press)

In Alberta, medical students were tapped to help with contact tracing by getting in touch with people in the province who have come in contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19.

In addition, pharmacists are being paid by the Alberta government to do coronavirus testing.

In Manitoba, about 200 students in fields like health sciences, dentistry, medicine, nursing, pharmacy and rehabilitation were helping screen patients at testing centres.

And Shared Health chief nursing officer Lanette Siragusa said Friday that 14 health information management students at Red River College are volunteering to help track the virus.

In addition, Dynacare, a medical laboratory services company, is helping the province deliver negative test results.

Chief provincial public health officer Brent Roussin said Friday that he hopes the province will be able to remove the backlog within a week to provide test results to patients between 24 to 48 hours.

"It's not lab capacity that is the rate-limiting step. It's the reagent," said Dr. Roussin. "So there's lots of capacity in other places but they would have the same issue with obtaining that reagent."

Roussin says the lab "came up with innovative strategies to increase to where we are now. Well-connected nationally, well-connected within the province, so they're constantly looking at ways like this [to increase capacity]."

Kindrachuk said more can be done.

He was in West Africa during the Ebola crisis in 2014 and 2015 and worked with a number of researchers and medical professionals who have lab and field experience.

"Clearly in Manitoba we have backgrounds in working with viruses in general, let alone other emerging viruses that came out in the field during epidemics or outbreaks," he said.

"I think that the unfortunate side is we have not talked to these people."