Province cites speed for using private lab to expand COVID-19 testing capacity
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 28/04/2020 (1127 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
On the eve of unveiling plans to start reopening the province for business, the premier announced Manitoba is ramping up coronavirus testing as restrictions loosen to keep the public safe.
"We are expanding our testing criteria to any Manitobans who exhibit symptoms of COVID-19," Premier Brian Pallister said Tuesday.
"Even mild symptoms — including a cough, a runny nose, a sore throat, a fever — would allow you to be tested to better determine the spread of the virus in Manitoba," he said.
Private laboratory company Dynacare has been performing COVID-19 tests since early April out of its lab in Ontario to supplement the capacity of Manitoba’s Cadham Provincial Laboratory, Pallister said. The province and Dynacare are partnering to double the number of tests that can be done in the short term and tripling capacity by the end of summer to as many as 3,000 tests per day. Dynacare will be setting up a second COVID-19 testing lab in Winnipeg.
"We will have much more ability to test more broadly to give Manitobans the confidence they need to have, that they’re not carrying the disease, that when they move around, when they shop, they’re able to do so safely," the premier said. "To know that’s the case so they can be confident."
The plan for reopening Manitoba will be announced Wednesday, he said.
Making sure that everyone with symptoms can be tested for the coronavirus will allow public-health officials to act quickly when positive cases appear, Pallister said before chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin announced no new cases in Manitoba.
As of Monday, 23,857 tests had been performed in Manitoba since early February, with 272 lab-confirmed positive and probable positive cases. In the last two weeks, just 29 new cases have been reported as the province’s COVID-19 curve has flattened.
"A critical element of our flattening efforts so far, and what’s contributed to Manitoba’s success, are our high levels of testing, of tracking and of self-isolation practices," Pallister said, urging people to remain vigilant with hand-washing and physical-distancing.
"It’s necessary we continue to increase our testing so we can ensure the health and well-being of Manitobans through effective monitoring of COVID as we look towards a strategy of restarting our economy.
"We want to stay ahead of this virus and we do not want to start chasing it again. Expanding testing will cost the province less than $10 million and is a necessary step toward people feeling comfortable about patronizing businesses again. (It’s) making sure that we’re confident when we go into a store for example, to know the staff there is not carrying COVID, or we won’t go into the store in the first place."
Pallister’s announcement that the government is giving more work to a private lab when the province is cutting public-sector jobs rankled the Manitoba Association of Health Care Professionals, which represents Shared Health laboratory technologists and assistants.
“We asked Shared Health last week if they were planning to privatize COVID-19 testing and received a response just this morning that gave no indication the Dynacare announcement was coming," president Bob Moroz said.
"Our question is, why Dynacare and not Shared Health when we have a fully functioning public laboratory system?"
When the question was asked at the daily COVID-19 briefing, Roussin responded, rather than Shared Health’s nursing chief Lanette Siragusa.
"It was probably the most expeditious way to go," he said. "They’re certified and linked into our testing system. We can move quite quick."
If Manitoba does see a surge in cases or an outbreak as restrictions lift, health officials need to be able to respond quickly, he said. They’ll be keeping a close eye on test results, as well as seven-day running averages of people with flu-like symptoms showing up at hospitals and how many patients need to be hospitalized.
For now, though, Manitoba has a low proportion of positive cases, and Roussin said he expects ramped-up testing will see that number fall even further.
"I would expect our test-positive proportion to go down as we’re testing lower-risk people," he said.
While Roussin wouldn’t hint at what’s included in Wednesday’s plan for lifting restrictions, he did say what it won’t include: wearing masks won’t be a requirement. Wearing one in public does not protect someone from getting the virus, he said.
There won’t be any signs or placards at businesses indicating whether staff and proprietors have been tested for COVID-19.
"We want to assure Manitobans that whoever has symptoms can be tested," he said, adding that for the time being there is no plan to use any apps, either.
"As we look to loosen our public-health restrictions, certain technologies may help us," said Roussin. "If there’s one that fits the Manitoba picture, we will certainly consider that."
After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.
Updated on Tuesday, April 28, 2020 9:06 PM CDT: Fixes typo