Group coronavirus testing in Saskatchewan schools could help to rapidly identify new cases in students, a Saskatoon biochemist says.
Kyle Anderson, an assistant biochemistry professor at the University of Saskatchewan, is calling on the province to conduct pool testing on a regular basis once students go back to class.
Pool testing is a form of surveillance testing in which samples from a group of people are combined and then examined together in a single test.
If the result comes back negative, the group is in the clear, Anderson said. If it’s positive, individualized tests need to be conducted.
“We’re looking for a needle in a haystack. Which haystack has the needle in it?” Anderson told Global News.
“That’s the point of doing pool testing, is just being able to focus us on where we’re supposed to be looking.”
Anderson, a father of five school-aged children, said he’d like to see pool tests conducted on a weekly basis in Saskatchewan schools.
The province’s chief medical officer said that’s probably not going to happen.
“(Testing) is a resource that we need to use judiciously and where appropriate,” Dr. Saqib Shahab said during a provincial update on Tuesday.
The province will continue to monitor various testing options, he said.
“There may be settings where you have ongoing clusters of cases where (pool testing) may be applied in a very systematic way, but I think we have to be cautious of not being overly reliant on these initiatives,” Shahab said.
“Our basic initiatives that we’ve all been practising since February have worked well for us and I think that’s what we need to put the emphasis on.”
Anderson said new recommendations for Saskatchewan schools announced Tuesday, including wearing masks in high-traffic areas, don’t negate the necessity of testing.
“It’s not going to replace individualized testing once we do find cases, but it’s a way of … knowing, what’s the general temperature of the school?” he said.
Patrick Maze, president of the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation, said teachers worry about outbreaks, so timely, frequent testing is crucial.
“If pool testing is a way to do that more efficiently and effectively, then we’d be all in favour for it,” he said
“Every tool that we have, we’re in favour of using.”
Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:
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. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out. In situations where you can’t keep a safe distance from others, public health officials recommend the use of a non-medical face mask or covering to prevent spreading the respiratory droplets that can carry the virus. In some provinces and municipalities across the country, masks or face coverings are now mandatory in indoor public spaces.
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