Manitoba reaches deal with private lab to expand COVID testing capacity

Manitoba is working on a deal with a private Winnipeg laboratory to increase provincial COVID-19 testing capacity by nearly 30 per cent as soon as next week.

BioScision Diagnostics to conduct an additional 1,000 PCR tests per day

Long lines of motorists have extended from COVID testing sites in Winnipeg for the past two weeks. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

Manitoba has reached a deal with a private Winnipeg laboratory to increase provincial COVID-19 testing capacity by nearly 30 per cent by the end of the week.

Since early last week, the province has been struggling to meet a massive spike in demand for COVID-19 tests spurred on by the highly transmissible Omicron variant.

Motorists in Winnipeg have been waiting hours to get a nasopharyngeal swab at testing centres, while the provincial Cadham Laboratory and private company Dynacare have struggled to meet the resulting processing demands.

Together, Cadham and Dynacare have been able to process an average of 3,560 PCR tests per day over the past week.

On Dec. 21, Winnipeg firm BioScision Diagnostics offered to process as many as 1,000 tests per day, said Dr. Richard Rusk, a consultant for BioScision.

The province responded on Dec. 23 and the two sides have reached a deal, Manitoba Central Services said Wednesday in a statement.

"We will expand testing capacity in this province," said Dr. Brent Guppy, chief science officer for BioScision.

The province says BioScision will begin providing service by the end of this week.

'A mounting disaster': MAHCP

The Manitoba Association of Health Care Professionals, which represents provincial laboratory workers, condemned the new contract, claiming it will do nothing to address capacity issues at Cadham Lab and other public labs.

"Our labs are at a breaking point and the government refuses to acknowledge this ongoing crisis or come up with a plan to address it," union president Bob Moroz said in a statement. 

"Instead, they're serving up yet another private agreement behind closed doors, while an apparent hiring freeze continues in our public laboratories. The staffing crisis is driving more and more of Manitoba's experienced lab professionals to burnout, stress leave and early retirement. This is not a plan, this is a mounting disaster."

Dr. Pamela Orr, an infectious disease physician at HSC, defended the deal but said she wonders why Manitoba did not seek out BioScision's help earlier — and also ask for help from university labs.

"It's not a question of privatizing health care. The taxpayer has to pay for tests no matter where they're conducted," she said.

Last week, provincial officials pledged to expand both laboratory processing capacity and sampling capacity at testing centres.

As of Wednesday, the turnaround time for test results was up to seven days, up from roughly 18 hours several weeks ago. The backlog of test samples is down to 10,700 tests, Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin said.

To reduce the burden on testing sites, the province has sent people home with rapid antigen tests when they show up at testing sites, provided they are both symptomatic and vaccinated.


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