Guidelines expanded

The Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) has expanded the testing guidelines to allow more provincial residents to be tested for COVID-19.

The expanded testing guidelines came into effect on May 25 and Saskatchewan residents can now call Healthline 811 to determine if they can report for COVID-19 testing based on the revised criteria.

SHA CEO Scott Livingstone spoke about the changes to the testing guidelines during a COVID-19 media update via teleconference, May 20.

“There will still be policies and processes, especially with respect to how we will test patients inside our health facilities in the upcoming days and weeks, and we will continue to communicate on those changes as our testing continues to expand across the province,” he said. “We expect the full implementation of testing to occur in phases over the coming days and weeks to come.”

He noted that testing is a key pillar of plans in jurisdictions across the country to resume economic activities, but he also urged Saskatchewan residents to continue to monitor for symptoms and to use the self assessment tool on the website.

“We need to continue to take COVID precautions in place very seriously,” he said. “Like everything with COVID, we're learning to be adaptive and responsive to what's emerging every week.”

The SHA is using testing as part of an offensive strategy to contain, delay and mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

“The expanded testing criteria will continue to evolve as will the work we will do as an organization to prepare our staff, physicians and all those coming into our facilities to understand how they will access testing as we do this,” he said.

Livingstone added that the criteria for COVID-19 testing in Saskatchewan has been broad from the start to allow anyone with potential symptoms to get tested, and he did not feel the testing criteria in place until this announcement has restricted people from receiving a referral for testing.

“I would say that the testing strategy that's been deployed throughout the pandemic in Saskatchewan has served us very well, including how we've been able to adapt our testing strategy to deal with concerns on the ground, particularly with outbreaks in hospitals and/or in the community,” he said.

The SHA has not set any specific targets for the number of people to test under the new expanded guidelines, but there is sufficient capacity to deal with an increased demand for testing.

“We've always had significant capacity that we haven't used,” he said. “We're seeing low testing numbers in areas outside of the far north where we're targeting it and some of the outbreaks, because we're not seeing people with symptoms show up, even though we have probably one of the broadest symptom checklists. If you have the sniffles, you can go in for COVID testing. So there is no target, but we do see and expect there to be significantly expanded numbers over the next weeks and months of continuing to test people across the province.”

The previous criteria for testing included a variety of symptoms, including fever, cough, headache, aches and pains, sore throat, chills, runny nose, nasal congestion, conjunctivitis, dizziness, fatigue, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, a skin rash, discolouration of fingers or toes, loss of appetite, loss of sense of taste or smell, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, or chest pain.

Testing has also been available under these guidelines for individuals who have been in contact with someone known or suspected to have COVID-19, individuals identified by public health as being at high risk of infection due to active spread of COVID-19, all residents upon admission or re-admission to a long-term care or personal care home, and all residents and staff in long-term care and personal care homes upon notification of a COVID-19 positive resident or staff member.

The expanded testing guidelines in effect since May 25 now make testing available to anyone currently working outside the home or returning to work who want to be tested. There will also be increased testing for individuals who are homeless or living in other vulnerable settings, and there will be mobile (worksite) testing for anyone in a high-volume work setting such as factories and industrial settings who want to be tested.

The expanded testing guidelines include testing for immunocompromised asymptomatic individuals such as cancer patients before their immunosuppressive procedures, as well as testing of all patients before their admission to an acute care hospital for a stay longer than 24 hours, including all expectant mothers entering a health facility to give birth.

Testing sites are located across the province, but they are not open for walk-in testing. The testing under the previous and expanded guidelines are available through referral only, which can be obtained by calling HealthLine 811 or by contacting your family physician or nurse practitioner. More information about testing is available on the website.

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