​The Saskatchew​an Health Authority is expanding its testing and contact tracing in La Loche and Clearwater River Dene Nation as it continues its vigorous approach to deal with an outbreak of COVID-19 in the area. The enhanced efforts will work in alignment with the testing and assessment being done by the Northern-Inter Tribal Health Authority.

Early identification of new cases and close contacts is critical in the response. The SHA has accelerated efforts to reallocate staff to support the response in north west Saskatchewan, including broadcast messages to staff to identify possible appropriate candidates for this work and labour pool re-assignment, all key components of the COVID-19 pandemic readiness plan.

​“Thank you to ​our staff who have already answered the call earlier this week for help in the area. We have had over 100 staff express interest in supporting the response,” SHA CEO Scott Livingstone said. “Together, we are demonstrating our power as a single health authority by pulling from health care workers across Saskatchewan to support the people in La Loche and area in their time of need.”

​ Individuals identified to support efforts in the Northwest are being screened, interviewed, and assessed to ensure they meet requirements for the work. Some are expected to arrive today with more to come over the weekend. 

​Staff are being re-allocated to support increased testing, enhancing contact tracing, drive-thru testing, home monitoring, and environmental and security services which is already underway. A key component of this strategy will be having the necessary staff in place to match the increased demand from lowering the threshold for testing. This lower threshold means that any household where a case had been identified, the entire household will be tested and given assistance and accommodation, where needed, to help people self-isolate in coordination with the local Emergency Operations Centre. 

​“It is important w​e work closely with the community to support individuals in understanding the importance of this work and ensuring they are able to self-isolate. This will further assist us in containing this virus,” said Dr. Rim Zayed, northern medical health officer. “Our response would not be possible without the involvement and support of local leaders. We are so thankful for their partnership.”

​The enhanced testing approach involves an anticipated 19 mobile testing teams each comprised of two clinical staff and one local staff memb​​er going door to door to over 750 households to support active case finding and household screening in La Loche, Clearwater River Dene Nation, Black Point and Garson Lake. 

​“We understand that in order to get this outbreak under control it is going to take a team effort, including community leadership, our local organizations, the SHA and other government agencies,” said La Loche mayor Robert St. Pierre. “And most importantly it will take the collective efforts of our community as we all share in the goal of eliminating COVID-19”.

​In addition, the GeneXpert testing machine recently deployed in the community will deliver initial results quickly to help identify those at risk. The SHA is working with the government to secure a daily flight to take presumptive positive tests to the Roy Romanow Provincial Lab in Regina through an expedited process. 

​The enhanced community testing and contact tracing is already underway and is expected to continue over the next week, as the community and SHA work together to contain the spread.​