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A Manitoba plan to ramp up COVID-19 testing and cut lengthy lines could result in people stuck at home for days awaiting results, potentially moving the bottleneck from the street to the lab.

Pembina Highway COVID-19 testing site to add capacity

More capacity will be available at the COVID-19 screening site at 2735 Pembina Hwy. on Saturday, the provincial government said.

The walk-in testing site will be able to perform at least 240 more swabs per day beginning Oct. 10. The province will also open a new drive-thru test site at 1066 Nairn Ave. on Oct. 13. It will be able to perform up to 200 tests a day, with a goal to ramp up capacity to 400 by Oct. 15.

On Thanksgiving Monday, COVID-19 testing will be available at the following locations:

More capacity will be available at the COVID-19 screening site at 2735 Pembina Hwy. on Saturday, the provincial government said.

The walk-in testing site will be able to perform at least 240 more swabs per day beginning Oct. 10. The province will also open a new drive-thru test site at 1066 Nairn Ave. on Oct. 13. It will be able to perform up to 200 tests a day, with a goal to ramp up capacity to 400 by Oct. 15.

On Thanksgiving Monday, COVID-19 testing will be available at the following locations:

• 1181 Portage Ave. in Winnipeg;
• 1284 Main St. in Winnipeg;
• 2735 Pembina Hwy. in Winnipeg;
• 604 St. Mary’s Rd. in Winnipeg;
• 622 Superior Ave. in Selkirk;
• Eriksdale Wellness Centre, 35 Railway Ave. in Eriksdale;
• Pine Falls Health Complex at 37 Maple St. in Pine Falls;
• Southland Mall at R10-777 Norquay Dr. in Winkler;
• 365 Reimer Ave. in Steinbach;
• Behind Manitoba Emergency Services College (the Van Horne location entrance off Van Horne Avenue East) in Brandon; and
• Portage Avenue and Fifth Street SE in Portage la Prairie.

While the provincial government makes good on its promise to open new test sites — among them a drive-thru location Tuesday in Winnipeg (1066 Nairn Ave.) — it’s unclear how it plans to process the hundreds of additional swabs it will collect. Over the coming weeks, six new sites are to become operational, with the total capacity to log up to 2,400 samples a day.

Currently, the province can collect roughly 2,500 swabs daily, under ideal staffing and weather conditions. Between the two facilities the province relies on to process novel coronavirus kits — Cadham Provincial Laboratory and private company Dynacare — testing capacity is nearly tapped out.

"Adding hundreds or thousands of more samples to be tested is a recipe for failure," Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union president Michelle Gawronsky said Friday. "You can’t ramp up testing without ensuring you have the technologists in place to process those tests.

"Instead of government preparing for this second (COVID-19) wave, we find ourselves with cases spiking and people waiting hours to get tested and days for their results to come back."

According to the union, which represents 113 staff at Cadham, the laboratory has been working at 300 per cent capacity for months. To be able to process hundreds of additional samples each day would require putting more medical lab technologists to work.

Between the two facilities the province relies on to process novel coronavirus kits — Cadham Provincial Laboratory and private company Dynacare — testing capacity is nearly tapped out.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / FREE PRESS FILES

Between the two facilities the province relies on to process novel coronavirus kits — Cadham Provincial Laboratory and private company Dynacare — testing capacity is nearly tapped out.

On occasion, the local laboratories have the ability to process up to a combined 3,000 samples, but realistically are able to handle about 2,500 on a daily basis.

When asked how the government will process potentially 2,000 additional swabs a day, a press secretary for Health Minister Cameron Friesen said in a statement: "Nothing is off the table as we look at increasing access to testing and test results."

"Our planned capacity is 3,000 tests and yesterday, we completed nearly 3,200 tests. This flexibility in the system is important in the short term," according to the statement.

Five schools report possible COVID-19 exposures

Public health officials are alerting Manitobans to possible COVID-19 exposures at University of Winnipeg Collegiate, Kleefeld School, Faraday School, O.V. Jewitt Community School and Kildonan East Collegiate.

The province says people may have been exposed to a confirmed case of COVID-19 at the University of Winnipeg Collegiate (515 Portage Ave.) on Sept. 28 and 30, and Oct. 5 and 7. So far, there is no evidence of in-school transmission or that the infection was acquired in school. Public health is reaching out to close contacts to advise them to monitor for symptoms and seek testing if they develop.

Public health officials are alerting Manitobans to possible COVID-19 exposures at University of Winnipeg Collegiate, Kleefeld School, Faraday School, O.V. Jewitt Community School and Kildonan East Collegiate.

The province says people may have been exposed to a confirmed case of COVID-19 at the University of Winnipeg Collegiate (515 Portage Ave.) on Sept. 28 and 30, and Oct. 5 and 7. So far, there is no evidence of in-school transmission or that the infection was acquired in school. Public health is reaching out to close contacts to advise them to monitor for symptoms and seek testing if they develop.

An exposure was also reported at Kleefeld School in Kleefeld, Man., on Oct. 1 and 2. The province says there is no evidence of in-school transmission or that the infection was acquired at the school. Public health is reaching out to close contacts to advise the affected cohort to self-isolate and move to remote learning.

On Sept. 29 and 30, a person with COVID-19 was at Faraday School (405 Parr St). in Winnipeg. A public health investigation has determined the exposure risk to be low and the infection was not acquired at school.

At O.V. Jewitt Community School, a person with COVID-19 attended the school on Sept. 28 and 29 while possibly infectious. The exposure risk is believed to be low and the infection was not acquired at school.

The school community at Kildonan East Collegiate is being notified of a person in attendance on Sept. 29 and Oct. 1, who might have been infectious. 

Based on the public health investigation, the exposure risk is considered low and no contacts have been told to quarantine. The infection was not believed to be acquired at school.

On Friday, the Manitoba government has announced it will extend the provincewide state of emergency an additional 30 days, to Nov. 8. The COVID-19-related state of emergency was first declared on March 20.

The province also said 3,196 laboratory tests were completed Thursday, the highest recorded in a single day thus far in the pandemic.

The province announced 84 new cases of COVID-19, and three additional deaths due to the disease. Thirty Manitobans have now died from COVID-19.

Sixty-four new cases were reported in the Winnipeg region, setting its record for a single-day increase; 12 cases were reported in Interlake-Eastern; seven in Southern Health; and one in Prairie Mountain.

Two of the deaths announced Friday were female residents of Parkview Place long-term care home in downtown Winnipeg. The women were in their 70s and 80s, respectively.

Chart showing daily and seven-day average number of reported COVID-19 cases in Manitoba

More than 30 Parkview Place residents have been infected with COVID-19 — six have died.

The third death reported was a woman in her 80s. She was a resident at Heritage Lodge long-term care home in Winnipeg.

Elsewhere, a cluster at Little Grand Rapids First Nation has grown to 33 cases, according to the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs. The number had been 25 on Thursday. The remote, fly-in community is currently in lockdown.

As of Friday, Manitoba had 933 active cases and 1,465 people had recovered from COVID-19. Twenty-five people were in hospital with the virus, including six in intensive care.

Manitoba NDP health critic Uzoma Asagwara said the government has been caught flat-footed and unprepared to provide COVID-19 testing in a timely way.

Chart showing active cases of COVID-19 by health district

"This is the moment that the government themselves identified would happen and that they would need to be prepared for, and they’re not," Asagwara said. "Their unwillingness to prioritize people is resulting in total inefficiencies in the system.

"The government needs to make it as easy as possible for folks to get tested and make decisions for their families and for themselves that don’t totally disrupt their ability to function," Asagwara said. "It demotivates people when they know they’re going to be waiting exorbitant amounts of time for test results."

danielle.dasilva@freepress.mb.ca

Michael Pereira

Michael Pereira
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Michael Pereira is a data journalist and developer who spends his days pulling data from (sometimes unwilling) sources, extracting meaning for readers and producing graphics that tell a story.

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Danielle Da Silva

Danielle Da Silva
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Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.

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