NDP call for increased COVID-19 testing, reduced class sizes, due to record new cases

Saskatoon – The opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) is calling for immediate action to increase COVID-19 testing capacity and reduce class sizes to slow the spread of the pandemic, due to “The alarming increase in COVID-19 cases in Saskatchewan in the past week” which they call “a serious cause for concern for the province.”

The NDP’s concerns, expressed by press release on Nov. 5, came on a day where Saskatchewan posted a record 129 new COVID-19 cases, with 50 recoveries and 32 people in hospital. There are 877 active cases in Saskatchewan. On Nov. 3, the province said it would require masks to be worn in indoor public places in Regina, Saskatoon and Prince Albert, commencing Nov. 6.

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“The risk to the health of the people of Saskatchewan is currently very high, as is the significant effect on the province’s economy if we don’t get this pandemic under control,” said NDP Leader Ryan Meili. “We knew this second wave was coming, and the government simply hasn’t done the work to protect people.”

The NDP is calling for more resources to be directed to increased testing and processing for COVID-19. 

“We are hearing from people who have waited up to 10 days to receive their test results back only to find that they tested positive after being told they only had to self-monitor,” said NDP Health Critic Vicki Mowat. “Increased testing and timely results are absolutely critical to protect people and control the spread of the pandemic. Our health professionals are doing everything they can to keep people safe, but they need more resources from the government to get to where we need to be.” 

On Nov. 4, 2,322 COVID-19 tests were processed in Saskatchewan. In mid-August, Premier Scott Moe, in speaking about the back-to-school plan, said testing capacity would ramp up to 4,000 tests per day by early September. On Oct. 26, there were 3,434 tests done, the highest number over the last two weeks. Most days during those two weeks saw between 1,900 and 2,700 tests performed. 

The government’s COVID-19 update press release on Nov. 5 noted, “The Roy Romanow Provincial Laboratory experienced technical difficulties Tuesday with the validation of COVID-19 tests, resulting in lower than expected case numbers reported yesterday (Nov. 4).  Following the validation of these samples, nine positive results were identified.  Due to the timing of the reporting of laboratory results, these nine cases will be counted in Nov. 6 case numbers.”

The NDP noted, “Despite a significant rise in cases locally, along with huge spikes in our neighbouring provinces of Manitoba and Alberta, Saskatchewan continues to test below the national average (71 per cent) with long delays in results.”

On Nov. 5, Manitoba reported 427 new cases, with 4,166 active cases. On Nov. 4, Alberta said they had 515 new cases, and 6,230 active cases. Across the 49th parallel, on Nov. 5 North Dakota had 1,540 new cases, and 9,224 active cases. Montana reported 1,013 new cases, with 13,261 active cases. 

Meili also renewed the NDP’s call for reduction in class sizes, a point he stressed during the recent election campaign, saying, “The government has reduced gatherings to 10 people but we are still sending our kids and teachers into classrooms with 30 or more children. It just doesn’t make sense.” 

Meili continued, “The government must take immediate steps to identify alternate venues that can be used for additional class space and hire more teachers and educational assistants so that we can keep our kids safe, reduce the spread of COVID-19 and make sure we don’t have to shut everything down again.”

Meili also said there was a need for clear enforcement of mandatory mask orders and for the consideration of extending the order to other areas of the province outside of Saskatoon, Regina and Prince Albert where there are significant increases in cases. 

“The pandemic doesn’t care where Saskatoon ends and Martensville begins, or where the line is between White City and Regina,” said Meili. “We have to keep each other safe with clear, consistent rules that apply to us all as we battle COVID-19 together.”