Private companies expect bump in demand after Sask. changes eligibility for free PCR tests

Private companies that offer PCR tests expect to see a bump in demand after the province announced free tests from the Saskatchewan Health Authority will now be reserved for "priority populations."

Free tests from Sask. Health Authority will now be reserved for 'priority populations'

Part of the lab facilities at Quantum Genetix in Saskatoon. (Quantum Genetix)

Private companies that offer PCR tests expect to see a bump in demand for their services, after the province announced Thursday that free PCR tests from the Saskatchewan Health Authority will now be reserved for "priority populations."

That includes health-care workers, hospitalized patients and people at high risk from COVID-19, such as residents in long-term care and symptomatic immunocompromised people.

"I think definitely in the next few weeks there will be [an increase in people wanting tests]," said Heather Deobald, general manager at Saskatoon's Quantum Genetix.

"I think people still like to have a confirmatory test done with PCR versus just the rapid testing."

While there are a number of companies around the province that can conduct PCR, or polymerase chain reaction, tests, Quantum is one of two companies that actually do the lab processing.

"Obviously we feel for the general public. It's an added expense now for people that used to have the PCR testing paid for by the government."

Residents who require PCR test results for travel, in lieu of proof of vaccination, or for insurance claims through the Workers' Compensation Board will now need to pay for a test from a private lab service.

Free PCR tests by the province will be restricted to 'priority populations' as of Monday. (Matthew Howard/CBC)

Katie Dutchak, lead nurse at the SRX Health Solutions airport location, said it is unfortunate the province is changing its PCR testing policy.

"As a company, we do think that this testing should be free for residents," Dutchak said.

Prior to Thursday's policy change, Dutchak said when a symptomatic person called, they would be directed to get a test through the Saskatchewan Health Authority.

"Our goal was to service asymptomatic clients' needs, whether that be travel, jobs, to attend events, peace of mind — different things like that for the asymptomatic clients."

PCR test costs range from from $170 to $250, depending on how fast people want results.

Deobald said Quantum has seen an uptick in tests over the last couple of weeks.

"People are using our PCR testing to confirm a rapid test result that is positive just because they want to have that on their health record," she said.

Some businesses also require a negative PCR test for workers who have tested positive before they're allowed to return, said Deobald.

But she estimates about 60 to 70 per cent of the testing Quantum Genetix does is travel-related.

"If they test positive and they do their isolation, they want to get a medical exemption for their travel purposes, so they'll come in and get a test and make sure that they have that … on their record," she said.

Dutchak said because she's at the SRX airport location, she also sees a lot of travellers who may need PCR tests.

"I would say that the majority of the government regulations for countries across the world are a PCR [test] or higher," she said.

The province's new PCR testing policy comes into effect on Monday.

At that time, all PCR tests for COVID-19 must be booked in advance via the 811 HealthLine.

COVID-19 update for Feb. 4

Saskatchewan's death toll from COVID-19 continues climbing, with four more deaths reported on Friday. 

Overall, 1,005 people with COVID have died in Saskatchewan since the start of the pandemic.

Hospitalizations, which have set records in recent days, declined by 21 people from Thursday's report. 

In total, there are 363 Saskatchewan people in hospital with COVID-19, including 34 in intensive care.

There were 770 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 reported on Friday. That number only includes the province's laboratory-confirmed results. Positive results from home tests are not included.

More than twice as many people as a month ago are confirmed to have COVID-19 in Saskatchewan, but the number is now dropping. On Friday, the province said there are 9,981 people known to be infected with the virus

With files from Alexander Quon