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Saskatchewan COVID-19 testing numbers drop with ICUs overcrowded

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WATCH: The number of people in Saskatchewan’s ICUs continues to rise but we may not have the total picture when it comes to case numbers. Global's Nathaniel Dove explores a dramatic drop in testing numbers and what that means for treatment – Oct 20, 2021

Saskatchewan ICU admissions and death toll continue to rise while the number of people getting tested for COVID-19 is dropping.

Meanwhile, nearly half of the people being admitted to hospital for treatment for the virus are only tested for the first time when they arrive for care or shortly afterwards, not before.

That’s according to a presentation from the Provincial Emergency Operations Centre (PEOC) on Wednesday.

Read more: COVID-19: Top Saskatchewan doctor breaks down while presenting modelling

Saskatchewan’s test positivity stands was 12.8 as of Oct. 17. That’s four times the national average and the highest in the country. And according to the Government of Saskatchewan’s COVID-19 dashboard, tests have decreased 46.5 per cent between Sept. 19 and Oct. 19.

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At the end of September, Premier Scott Moe announced Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) staff would no longer test asymptomatic people who weren’t in close contact with someone with COVID-19, who weren’t caught in an outbreak recently, who hadn’t had a recent positive antigen test result or requires a transfer or who don’t require admission to a long-term care home, primary care, social services or ICU.

A University of Saskatchewan epidemiologist said the changes are likely driving up the test positivity rate, since the province is testing fewer asymptomatic people who would test positive while biasing toward people who will test positive.

Nazeem Muhajarine also said the new testing practices are likely missing people who need to be tested.

Read more: Masking, isolation order extended until end of November in Saskatchewan

“We are likely missing people who are positive but asymptomatic,” he told Global News, adding that some people may just not feel like getting tested.

He said the test positivity rate is likely highly than it should be while the daily case count numbers are lower than they should be.

He said the change to testing is probably pushing more people to get vaccinated, since they’re less able to get a test for free, and acknowledged the province needs to preserve its testing and tracing resources.

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But he said some of the measures may obscure how COVID-19 is spreading in the province.

Read more: Saskatchewan government to expand delivery of rapid antigen testing kits

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Health disagreed.

“The testing system does not push the positivity rate higher; a higher test positivity number is related to higher transmission,” Jennifer Graham said, in a statement.

“This is why we continue to strongly recommend that everyone who is eligible gets vaccinated. Vaccination has been demonstrated to be the best protection against COVID-19 transmission and illness.”

On Oct. 15, the government announced the SHA was distributing self-testing kits that would be available this week.

The release said tests would be available at participating fire halls, chambers of commerce and SHA testing centres.

The City of Saskatoon sent out a press release on Monday stating fire halls in the city would not be distributing tests because the stations are closed to the public to limit exposure to COVID-19.

Self-tests and rapid tests are not counted in official statistics. The SHA directs anyone who tests positive with such a test to seek a test from a health authority testing site.

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Muhajarine said residents will need to look to different methods to learn how COVID is spreading in Saskatchewan.

“We have to put our reliance on what is to come, in the days forward, in the weeks forward, on things like wastewater surveillance.”

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