Coronavirus: Saskatchewan nurses running out of swabs to test for COVID-19

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Saskatchewan nurses running out of swabs to test for COVID-19
WATCH: SUN said nurses are running out of nasopharyngeal swabs, which they use to test people for COVID-19, along with personal protective equipment – Mar 19, 2020

With four new presumptive cases of COVID-19 in Saskatchewan bringing the province’s total up to 20, front line workers say the province is running out of swabs to test for the virus.

The Saskatchewan Union of Nurses (SUN) said nurses are running out of nasopharyngeal swabs, which they use to test people for COVID-19.

The union says nurses are testing with plain swabs instead, but those take longer to yield results.

“We’re not going to flatten the curve if we do less when everyone else around us is saying we need to test, test, test,” said Tracy Zambory, the union’s president.

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It’s not just swabs they’re running out of. Personal protective equipment such as masks and gloves are being rationed, according to the union. The union has raised concerns about nurses protection before, after they were not provided with N95 respirators by the provincial health authority.

It says nurses are being some people who’ve come in contact with an infected person not being tested, especially if they don’t have symptoms.

Instead, they’re being told to go home and monitor themselves, and to call the province’s health line at 811 if they get worse.

Nurses worry those unchecked people could spread the virus.

“Is there a correlation between thinking that we can do less testing because we don’t have the ability to do tests?” asked Zambory.

“That’s the concern that registered nurses are having.”

The Saskatchewan Health Authority says it’s working to get more equipment to assessment sites where the tests are being conducted.

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It’s tested over 2,500 people to date. Things are “going well,” according to the province’s chief medical health officer.

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As for more tests down the line, that could change.

“There may be some pressures in where testing may have to be prioritized for either people who have more severe symptoms or people [like healthcare workers] that have to get back to work if they’re negative,” said Dr. Saqib Shahab.

“In some parts of Canada it’s already happening that if you have mild symptoms it’s no longer important if it’s COVID-19, just wait it out.”

The union said it wants anyone who’s come into contact with an infected person to be tested, regardless of their symptoms.

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“[Those patients] go out into the community and have a three to five day potential of spreading it,” Zambory said.
“I guess there is some argument around is [testing] worth it or not [in those cases], well we feel that it is worth it.”

The union said it needs more supplies from the province, something that’s already in the works. Zambory is urging the public to stay home and self-isolate.

“If we don’t and we take our lessons from Italy, from Spain, from China, it took testing to make sure that people were not contagious,” she said.

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Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials say the risk is low for Canadians but warn this could change quickly. They caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are asked to self-isolate for 14 days in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. And if you get sick, stay at home.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

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