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Saskatchewan Health Authority no longer testing asymptomatic people for COVID-19

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WATCH: The Saskatchewan government released new information about testing Tuesday and for those not fully vaccinated, the options become more complicated – Sep 28, 2021

The Saskatchewan Health Authority is no longer testing people who are asymptomatic for COVID-19.

Anyone who isn’t experiencing symptoms of the disease can still get tested, but they’ll have to pay for it themselves.

The SHA will still test anyone who was in close contact to someone with COVID-19, has been caught in an outbreak recently, had a recent positive antigen test result or requires a transfer or admission to a long-term care home, primary care, social services or ICU.

Read more: SHA expands options to book COVID-19 vaccine appointments

The provincial government unveiled the new rules Tuesday morning in a statement, ahead of the new guidelines that come into effect on Oct. 1. Starting Friday, most businesses in the province will require proof of vaccination or a recent negative test result for entry.

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The statement provided some clarity on the measures, which Premier Scott Moe first announced on Sept. 16, but did not answer other questions.

Tuesday’s release stated unvaccinated would-be patrons will need to show a test result from the past 72 hours. And self-administered take-home tests will not be accepted.

The statement directs people to privately owned test providers.

There are just three such companies in the province — and two of them are partners — that offer services at 23 locations.

One is Nobel HSSE Ltd, which has locations in Saskatoon, Regina, Oxbow and a mobile clinic.

Shirley Galloway, the owner, said she’s had “an amazing amount of calls” since Moe first mentioned the changes.

“We are almost fully booked across the board everywhere for PCR and antigen (tests),” she told Global News.

She said she had no warning about the announcement and is now anticipating even more demand.

University of Saskatchewan epidemiologist Nazeem Muhajarine called the measure a “last ditch effort” to preserve the SHA’s testing capacity, given the high rates of COVID in the province.

Read more: Saskatchewan to allow employers to ask workers for proof of vaccination

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He said it’s important to preserve that capacity, but he said it’s also important to keep testing asymptomatic people.

“There are a lot of asymptomatic people out there carrying the virus infectious and they don’t know that without a test,” he said, adding the province is effectively not paying attention to asymptomatic transmission chains.

And given the high rates of COVID-19, he said the SHA should probably conduct random testing.

“(Asymptomatic people) don’t know that they’re contagious and they could be vectors, carriers of this virus and out there in the community.”

He said, ultimately, the provincial government could have avoided this situation, telling Global News the province should have done everything possible to limit the spread and keep it small.

Muharajine said he believed the measure will likely encourage more people to get vaccinated, because it will cost them money.

Galloway said Nobel charges $90 for an antigen rapid test, $250 for the far-more sensitive PCR test and $350 for same-day PCR tests.

Read more: Questions around Sask’s proof-of-vaccine policy: will employees need to be vaccinated Oct. 1?

Other official providers have similar prices.

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Galloway recommended people book their tests as far in advance as possible.

She also recommended people get vaccinated, in order to avoid the expensive testing and to help others.

“It will protect the public, it’ll protect our communities, it will protect the vulnerable, the children who are unable to get vaccinated,” she said.

Global News reached out to the Ministry of Health and asked if SHA personnel would speak to everyone in line at test sites to see if they were asymptomatic. Global News also asked if those patrons would be asked to leave the line if they were.

As well, Global asked if the government would help the private test providers accommodate what will likely be a huge surge in demand for tests, if the government is still trying to secure rapid tests to distribute for home use, as Moe previously announced.

A statement said the SHA is working to gather the information and that the government will announce more information in the coming days.

It did say employees at venues with public access will be required to be vaccinated.

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