Majority of Regina students not opting for in-school COVID-19 testing

In-school testing begins this week at high schools in Regina, Saskatoon and Prince Albert. However in Regina, less than 20 per cent of students have signed up. 

Less than 20 per cent of students at a Regina high school have signed up to be tested

Mercedes Phillips is a 15-year-old student at Regina's Campbell Collegiate. She has consented to be tested in school to help track the spread of COVID-19. Phillips said she has been encouraging her fellow classmates to be tested. (Bonnie Allen/CBC)

In-school testing begins this week at high schools in Regina, Saskatoon and Prince Albert. However in Regina, less than 20 per cent of students have signed up. 

The voluntary testing is meant to monitor COVID-19 in schools. The testing starts on Sept. 16 at Campbell Collegiate, at Saskatoon's Holy Cross High School on Sept. 17 and at Carlton Comprehensive High School in Prince Albert on Sept. 17 and 18.

As of Sept. 15, 253 students at Campbell Collegiate were signed up out of about 1,400 total students. 

"I'm getting tested because we wear masks at the school for safety precautions to keep our peers and our staff and our teachers safe. So I believe that by getting tested, we're just furthering our protection," Mercedes Phillips said. 

Phillips is in Grade 10 and will be swabbed for COVID-19 on Wednesday. She said she thinks it should be mandatory as the test only takes a few minutes. 

"We have a lot of students that are at a bigger risk of getting it with, you know, predetermined conditions that do attend in school," she said. "It's a very easy test. It takes about two minutes to get done and then it could further and save so many people's lives from getting hurt or injured from COVID-19." 

Provincial health workers perform a nasal swab to test for COVID-19 in Gull Bay, Ont., on April 21. (David Jackson/Reuters)

Phillips said she's heard people don't like the idea of getting their nose swabbed, however she said having COVID-19 is going to be worse than having a simple swab. 

"There are asymptomatic people where you could be carrying COVID-19 and not know that you have it," she said. 

The health authority was originally planning to screen as many students as possible. Students under 14 need their parents to sign a consent form. Some parents are opting to not have their children tested. 

Infection control specialist Colin Furness said this kind of screening is important.

"We need to be worried about contagion where people don't seem sick, that's actually what's most dangerous," Furness said. 

The Saskatchewan Health Authority said while the number of students who have consented doesn't represent the entire school population, people have been accessing testing by other means such as by calling 811 or by going to a drive-thru testing site. The province intends to continue testing in schools all semester. 

Phillips said she thinks there has been pandemic fatigue among young people, especially after a restricted summer. She said she heard about back to school parties among her classmates and said she thinks parties in Regina are being held quietly.

"We've been in quarantine for months now and I think a lot of people are tired and they're ready to get out of it and they're starting to break rules," Phillips said. "

"I do believe that Regina stayed a little under the radar, but we're not at zero," Phillips said. "I don't think we will be safe until everybody is wearing a mask and everybody is tested."

With files from Bonnie Allen and Heidi Atter