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StatCan employees to help with Saskatchewan testing, contact tracing amid redeployment

Ottawa Public Health is reporting 40 new cases of the novel coronavirus and one new death linked  to COVID-19 on Monday.
Ottawa Public Health is reporting 40 new cases of the novel coronavirus and one new death linked to COVID-19 on Monday. The Canadian Press

As Saskatchewan redeploys government employees to help with coronavirus testing and contact tracing, the federal government is making 30 to 40 Statistics Canada staff available to the cause.

“With the higher number of cases being reported each day, contact tracing is becoming challenging,” the province’s health minister, Paul Merriman, said Thursday afternoon while announcing the additional resources.

This week, Saskatchewan broke 2,000 active cases of COVID-19.

Read more: Saskatchewan looks to feds for help as contact tracing becomes challenging

On Tuesday, the province’s chief medical health officer noted more and more infections have no known exposure and each person testing positive had an average of five to eight contacts.

The health minister said on Thursday that each person testing positive has about 11 contacts.

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The Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) has been expanding its testing capacity and now has sites in 52 communities. A drive-thru option is available in Regina, Saskatoon, Yorkton — and soon, Prince Albert.

Click to play video 'How drive-thru coronavirus testing will work in Saskatchewan' How drive-thru coronavirus testing will work in Saskatchewan
How drive-thru coronavirus testing will work in Saskatchewan – Sep 9, 2020

“The amount of testing has expanded as testing options have also expanded,” Merriman said.

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As of Thursday, 307,264 COVID-19 tests had been processed in the province, 2,004 of them on Wednesday.

In addition to the 18 GeneXpert testing sites, which offer preliminary results within hours, the health minister said the SHA is introducing rapid point-of-care testing.

Merriman said the new method will be best used on asymptomatic patients in hospitals and long-term care homes and will up the system’s existing capacity by 640 tests per day.

The SHA has already hired 50 of the 76 additional staff approved to support provincial labs, he said.

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Approximately 40 provincial government staff members are being made available to assist with negative coronavirus test result notification, currently supported by 80 University of Saskatchewan nursing students, and data entry, Merriman said.

Read more: Coronavirus: 75 more nurses ready to help in Saskatchewan, hundreds of students on deck

“Testing itself does not get the job done,” he said. “You need the contact investigations that are triggered by confirmed test results.”

The 30 to 40 staff members from Statistics Canada will be used to support contact tracing, Merriman said.

Another 20 provincial employees are being pulled and trained to support contact monitoring, he said.