The province will launch a COVID-19 rapid-testing pilot program for Winnipeg teachers and education staff in January, Premier Brian Pallister said Thursday.

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The province will launch a COVID-19 rapid-testing pilot program for Winnipeg teachers and education staff in January, Premier Brian Pallister said Thursday.

"The rapid-testing program's focus is on protecting front-line workers and those they care for," he said.

More details on the pilot program and plans to expand it outside the city will be announced soon. The pilot is part of a broader expansion throughout the province, Pallister said, adding Manitoba has placed a $40-million order for Songbird Hyris units, which will help deliver 45,000 tests a month.

"That gives us the capacity to test every teacher, every educational support staff twice a month right until the end of the school year, if needed," Pallister said.

Manitoba Teachers' Society president James Bedford said they've been talking to the province about prioritizing rapid COVID-19 tests for teachers since August. Before classes resumed, concerns were raised about teachers spending long self-isolation periods out of the classroom as they wait for test results, especially since there is a shortage of substitute teachers.

Bedford is waiting for details about how the rapid tests will be deployed.

"Because it has very much to do with that question of how much time will the teacher be away from the classroom, because the substitute shortage... (has) gotten worse."

Critics say the pilot program in schools should include children.

"I think it was a big failure on the part of the premier to not include children," NDP Leader Wab Kinew told reporters. Including them would answer questions about the safety of schools, he said.

"What we're calling for is asymptomatic surveillance testing in schools that would include children. We should generate the data right here in Manitoba."

Rapid testing in schools should have been well underway by now and include students, Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said.

"The idea we have to wait for rapid testing (is) a failure of the Pallister government," he said, noting that the federal government has already sent the province 251,264 rapid-testing kits.

"We're waiting till after the school break to actually start testing teachers and staff but we won't actually be testing children," Lamont snorted.

The premier said an additional 20 Abbott ID NOW units will be sent to communities across the province, in addition to 13 testing units previously announced. The rapid allocation of the Abbot tests will offer health-care providers a valuable early screening tool to identify possible outbreaks quickly, Pallister said.

— with file from Malak Abas

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

 

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.