As new daily coronavirus cases, actives cases and other epidemiological markers appear to be trending downwards in Saskatchewan, so does one other important measure: testing.
“We have a pandemic that’s taking effect in our province that includes a lot of people who will be mildly symptomatic or potentially not having any symptoms at all,” said University of Saskatchewan epidemiologist Cory Neudorf, who finds the testing numbers concerning.
“If you want to get control of this, you need to make sure that you’re finding as many of those people as possible.”
Late last year, demand for COVID-19 testing spiked. There were long lines at the drive-thru testing sites in Regina and Saskatoon, with people waiting in their vehicles for hours.
It was only a handful of times back then that workers performed the 4,000 tests per day officials said they were building up capacity to handle.
While the number of people tested varies from day to day, according to provincial data, weekly averages illustrate an overall drop.
In the last seven days, a daily average of 2,178 tests were performed. In the seven days before that, the daily average was 2,628 and in the seven days before that, it was 2,918.
However, provincial test-positive rate has also gone down, continuing to hover around 10 per cent — well above the national rate of around 4 per cent.
Neudorf says that having a high rate is partially attributable to those who are sickest and their close contacts seeking out testing, but also reflects the high rate of illness in the community.
He suggests a sort of testing fatigue may be settling in based on some people’s past experience with the long waits, the discomfort associated with nose swab procedure, successive negative results and the stilll-existing stigma of not wanting a positive result .
“Over the past few days, was I in a situation where a lot of people weren’t wearing masks? Or I found myself in a group, I have a few mild symptoms. Maybe I should go get a test. People are starting to lose that motivation I think after this many months,” Neudorf said.
While Neudorf says introducing heightened restrictions, which people are also tiring of, is one way to respond to the dip in testing numbers, another is to innovate the testing strategy.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Tuesday morning that the provinces and territories had been sent 17 million rapid tests. He noted that a very small portion of them have been performed and encouraged officials to “make good use of them.”
“They will be extremely important in the weeks and months to come to keep our numbers low until vaccines can be tested, vaccines arrive and so on,” Trudeau said.
The Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) said this province received 378,880 rapid tests, but that as of Jan. 20, only 6,767 had been used.
SHA CEO Scott Livingstone said Tuesday afternoon that the province is taking a targeted approach to administering them, starting with 75 care homes. The process is underway at 23 while another 22 are in training.
He noted the health authority has not yet worked through the logistics around rapid testing for schools and businesses.