Sask. Health Authority says front-line medical staff priority for COVID-19 testing

Earlier in March, health authority leaders were being told not to require their staff to get tested before returning to work in the province's health-care system.

The province has conducted more than 7,500 COVID-19 tests

The government of Saskatchewan says front-line health-care staff will be given priority for COVID-19 testing, even if they have not travelled. (David Blomme/NSHA)

A global health epidemiologist says the government of Saskatchewan should be loosening testing parameters around COVID-19 for front-line medical staff.

Earlier in March, the Saskatchewan Health Authority told leaders in its facilities that staff do not have to be tested for COVID-19 before returning to work.

The information was outlined in a March 20 newsletter sent to staff across the health authority obtained by the CBC. 

"Instead, ask them to use the COVID-19 self-assessment tool," the memo said.

That's concerning for Dr. Raywat Deonandan, a global health epidemiologist and an associate professor at the University of Ottawa. 

He says while the self-assessment tool may be a suitable solution for staff who aren't front-line, it could fall short for those dealing directly with patients.

"Ideally, if we had many, many, many more tests, which we do not yet, then we would test everyone before they're allowed to go to work, regardless of whether they're showing symptoms or not," he said.

"That would be a fast way to sort of stem the tide of cases."

Dr. Saqib Shahab, the province's chief medical health officer, speaks with reporters on Friday, March 27. He says front-line health-care staff will be given priority for testing, even if they have not travelled. (CBC)

In Saskatchewan, there were a total of 104 COVID-19 cases as of Friday afternoon.

At the press conference detailing new cases, Saskatchewan chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab said that front-line health-care staff are being given a priority when it comes to testing, even if they haven't travelled.

"People who are providing essential services, like health-care workers and other staff, if they get a dry cough, you're going to want to know, 'is it COVID-19 or not COVID-19?' So they will get tested," he said.

"Obviously, if they have a cough and fever, they need to stay home anyways, but they will get tested." 

Shahab said the the SHA is trying to ensure tests are being given to those who are highest priority, noting everyone in the province has a role to play in ensuring adequate supply.

As of March 27, the government of Saskatchewan has completed 7,580 COVID-19 tests.