No cases of COVID-19 found in 1st week of Manitoba’s asymptomatic surveillance program

By | May 30, 2020

No cases of COVID-19 were found in the first week of Manitoba’s asymptomatic surveillance program, a provincial spokesperson says.

A total of 1,168 people without symptoms were tested for COVID-19 as part of the program that launched last week, the spokesperson said in an email.

No one tested through the program had tested positive as of late Thursday afternoon, she wrote. There were no known false positives or negatives as of that time.

The province quietly launched the program in some health-care centres on May 20, with others rolling out the testing for people without symptoms on May 21.

Dr. Brent Roussin, the province’s chief provincial public health officer, has described the program as “sentinel surveillance,” with health-care providers in those sites offering COVID-19 tests to patients without symptoms who show up for unrelated concerns.

The goal of the project is to gather a random sample of Manitobans to determine if there’s community spread happening that is escaping official notice.

The provincial spokesperson didn’t say how many health-care facilities are participating in the program, but did say facilities in all five health regions in the province are involved.

There’s currently no official target for how many samples the province wants to gather through the program.

Testing numbers up

The province changed its strategy on testing in April to allow any Manitobans with symptoms to seek testing. Prior to those changes, only symptomatic people from certain groups, such as those working in health-care or living in group settings, could access testing.

This week, Roussin said staff at community testing sites won’t turn away people who show up without symptoms, either, although he’s not advising asymptomatic people to get tested en masse.

Alongside broader categories, asymptomatic testing is likely contributing to increased testing numbers reported over the past several days, Roussin said Friday.

The province reported 1,115 tests were completed on Thursday, 725 on Wednesday and 1,145 on Tuesday.

The counts for Tuesday and Thursday are among the highest single-day test numbers the province has posted since the pandemic began.

“As we opened up the testing broadly [and] implemented some targeted asymptomatic testing, you could see that late last week we saw our [test] numbers starting to trend higher,” Roussin said Wednesday.

“This is the kind of numbers that I would expect to see throughout the week, and maybe a drop over weekends.”

Different approaches across Canada

Across Canada, provinces have taken different approaches to asymptomatic testing. Alberta, for example, launched a program Friday offering tests to anyone in the province who wants one, with or without symptoms.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford also announced earlier this week anyone who wants a test in that province can get one, as can anyone working outside the home in Saskatchewan.

Roussin has stressed the limitations of asymptomatic testing. He’s described negative tests in those without symptoms as unreliable, and said people who have COVID-19 may still test negative in the days before their symptoms appear.

The province is considering offering targeted asymptomatic testing to people who are high-risk, such as truckers who have to leave the province regularly for work, Roussin has said.

Any asymptomatic testing done in the province could be pulled back, he said, if more capacity is needed due to a resurgence of COVID-19 in the future.

Manitoba currently has capacity to complete roughly 2,000 tests per day, with plans to potentially increase that number to 3,000 by fall.

A total of 42,306 tests had been performed since the start of the pandemic as of Friday.

No new cases of COVID-19 were reported in the province on Friday, with 14 active cases in the province.

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