Sask. Opposition, Teachers' Federation call for faster COVID-19 rapid test implementation in schools

On Friday the NDP’s Carla Beck pointed to the rise of COVID-19 variants in Saskatchewan and said it showed the province needed to find a way to get testing in schools as fast as possible. One day later the Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation urged schools to use the tests if they have them on-hand.

Some schools have tests on hand, but lack guidance, expertise on administration: Education critic

Carla Beck, the Saskatchewan NDP's critic for education, called for the government to implement rapid COVID-19 testing in schools quickly. (Bryan Eneas/CBC)

Saskatchewan's Official Opposition and a body that represents teachers in the province are calling for faster implementation of rapid tests for COVID-19 in schools. 

On Friday the NDP's Carla Beck pointed to the rise of variants of the virus that causes COVID-19 in Saskatchewan and said it showed the province needed to find a way to get testing in schools as fast as possible. 

"What I'm hearing from schools and school divisions is that they are happy to work with the Ministry of Health, but they do not have the expertise to implement protocols," Beck said. 

"I think that that information needs to come from from the the public health officials"

In a statement on Friday, the province confirmed 100,000 rapid tests were shipped to school divisions, historical high schools and independent schools by the Saskatchewan Health Authority earlier this week.

The statement said tests would be available if local medical health officers and school divisions were to determine they wanted to add rapid testing to the measures schools already use, as another tool to combat COVID-19. 

Those discussions, the statement said, were underway as early as this week. 

On Friday Beck noted some tests were already "on the doorsteps" of some schools in Saskatchewan, but there was still confusion about things like permission forms and procedures for administering the tests. 

The province's statement said the ministries of education and health were working to prepare consent forms for parents and other information about how tests may be used in schools.

"Rapid testing will be voluntary and will require parental consent, if parents choose to have their children have a rapid test," the province's statement said. 

The Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation issued a statement on Saturday, urging all schools to implement rapid testing immediately. 

Patrick Maze, federation president, said if the tests are on hand, they need to be used. 

"This is our best tool to get ahead of the spread of variants of concern and slow transmission in our schools and communities," he said in the statement.

The ministry of health, the government's statement said, was also in the process of finding third-party providers to use the tests in schools and in other locations in Saskatchewan.

The tests can be administered by lay-people, the government said, once they've completed an online training session developed by the Saskatchewan Health Authority Lab. An on-demand module was to be available by April 5. 

The testing uses a short nasal swab and provides results in 15 minutes, the province's statement said.

The goal of the testing is to identify the presence of COVID-19 in asymptomatic people. The testing may be used when there are known cases in a school or community.