Private COVID-19 testing companies see more demand as Sask. Health Authority stops testing asymptomatic people

Private COVID-19 testing companies in Saskatchewan have seen an increase in demand since the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) discontinued testing for people who are asymptomatic.

“We find we’re booking almost five days ahead,” said Shirley Galloway, CEO and Chief Nursing Officer at Nobel HSSE Management.

The SHA is now only providing PCR tests to people who have symptoms of COVID-19, have a positive antigen test, are a close contact to a positive COVID case or need it for other medical reasons.

People who require proof of a negative COVID test for travel or because they are unvaccinated will have to pay for their test at a private company.

One of those companies is Nobel HSSE Management, which has offices in Saskatoon, Regina, Oxbow, Estevan and Moose Jaw.

It offers rapid antigen tests for about $90 and PCR tests for around $200, with discounts for those who are in the process of getting fully vaccinated.

“Anyone who has stepped up to protect the public, protect themselves, protect our children, protect our vulnerable and has gone forward to get their first vaccine, we are more than happy to facilitate testing for them and make it not so tough on their pocketbook,” Galloway said.

Quantum Genetix, which offers testing at similar prices, is also seeing more people book COVID-19 tests.

“September was actually our busiest month on record. So, I think yeah, we’re definitely seeing more travellers, more workplace screening and more increase in the rapid antigen testing,” said general manager Heather Deobald.

Under the private testing model, all patient information collected goes to the SHA.

Any test that comes back positive is sent to the Roy Romanow Provincial Laboratory for confirmation and verification and is added to the province’s daily COVID numbers, according to the SHA.

In a statement to CTV News, the Ministry of Health said negative testing requirements are not a substitution for vaccination but help ensure low risk of transmission.

It said it will not compensate for testing to access non-essential spaces and reiterates that vaccination is key to fighting COVID-19.

Cynthia Carr, founder and epidemiologist at EPI Research, hopes this move will encourage more people to get immunized.

“It really will protect you from the most serious outcomes, which is really what we want, not to be relying on getting tested and that’s very inconvenient too, literally (having to get tested) every two or three days (for the workplace) because the asymptomatic spread you know is so prevalent with this virus,” she said.

Galloway said while some form of testing will likely always be needed for things like travel, she also hopes the demand will go down as more people choose to get vaccinated.

“We would like to be put out of business on the testing because what that would mean is people would be vaccinated.”