More drive-thru testing for COVID-19 being considered in Sask.

The Saskatchewan Health Authority is considering lengthening hours and opening more locations for drive-thru COVID-19 testing, with the number of new daily cases projected to rise above 560 by mid-December.

High demand led to early closure of Prince Albert centre on first day of opening

Health workers at Regina's drive-thru testing site. (Jean-Baptiste Demouy/Radio-Canada)

The Saskatchewan Health Authority is considering lengthening hours and opening more locations for drive-thru COVID-19 testing, with current sites under pressure due to surging case numbers.

New projections released Thursday suggest the number of new COVID-19 cases could reach 560 per day by mid-December. 

Testing centres, which are located in Prince Albert, Regina, Saskatoon and Yorkton, are already under strain due to the recent increase in community transmission of the virus. 

On its first day of operation, the Prince Albert centre had to turn people away more than two hours before its scheduled closing time of 4 p.m. CST. 

Jennifer Nygaard drove for about an hour from her home in Struthers Lake to line up for drive-thru testing. 

She said she joined the line at about noon and was turned away before 2 p.m.

"If people are having to be sent home at 1:00 in the afternoon, that says to me that they're well below the capacity to test the people that want to be tested right now," said Nygaard. 

She said nobody should be turned away because the province is in an emergency situation, and because they might not have the means to try again.

Longer hours, 2nd centres among options

SHA chief executive Scott Livingstone said at a news conference Thursday work is underway to expand testing capacity. 

"Particularly in Saskatoon and Regina we are looking at how we extend hours as well as put more staff in place, or even look at second locations for drive-thru testing in both the centres because of the popularity," said Livingstone. 

Livingstone said a pilot program is also being used to proactively test long-term care workers and residents at eight facilities. 

The program will be expanded provincewide after the initial pilot period to help identify cases earlier, he said.

He added that about 15 new laboratory staff have been hired and about 20 more are in training to improve testing capacity and timeliness.

GeneXpert machines are in 19 communities across the province to reduce the need for people to travel for testing, Livingstone said.

"We are working with GeneXpert to continue to expand the access to cartridges so we can use that platform better."

Questions about access

But Nygaard said the system for COVID-19 testing relies too heavily on having access to a vehicle. 

"What are they doing for people who are in rural communities? What are they doing for seniors who may not have vehicles to get there?" she said. 

"What are they doing for people with disabilities that are not in the city?… You cannot access this testing through public transit. So maybe they need to look at an in-home testing model."

On Wednesday, 3,247 tests were completed in Saskatchewan, the province said in its Thursday COVID-19 update.

Of the total 353,638 tests completed since the beginning of the pandemic, 100,945 were in Saskatoon and 54,561 have been completed in Regina.

In the north central region, where Prince Albert is located, 26,429 test have been done.