People working in all Manitoba’s schools will be eligible for rapid COVID-19 testing in Winnipeg starting Saturday, the province says.
The “Fast Pass” pilot site was announced in December and opened for appointments alongside a regular testing location at 1066 Nairn Ave. on Monday. It was initially only for staff in five divisions, with plans to expand access to those across the province in February, the province said last week.
Testing at the site is by appointment only, and is now available to any school staff working directly with students. That includes teachers, educational support staff, bus drivers, custodians and child-care staff in school-based facilities, the province said in a news release announcing the new site last week.
People going for a rapid test at the Winnipeg site are expected to get same-day results, the province said in that release, though wait times may be longer at first as testing processes are set.
To be eligible for an appointment at the site, staff need to either be identified as a close contact of a COVID-19 exposure at school, live with someone who has symptoms of the illness, or have symptoms of their own, the province said in its daily COVID-19 news release on Friday.
When the site was announced last week, the president of the Manitoba Teachers’ Society said the faster turnaround time meant schools would be able to identify close contacts of cases sooner.
But James Bedford also said he hoped the province would eventually be able to do surveillance testing of people in schools without COVID-19 symptoms.
Opposition NDP Leader Wab Kinew criticized the province’s rapid testing plan on Friday, saying the resources devoted to the pilot project should be used to test for asymptomatic transmission in schools.
“Right now, when we have testing capacity in the system, if an individual is symptomatic, then why aren’t they just being dealt with with the normal testing lanes that exist?” Kinew said.
“[If the government is] going to launch a pilot program, it should be a pilot asymptomatic testing program so that we can generate some data right here in Manitoba that would, in fact, prove that there’s not community spread in schools — or it might show another result that would then lead the government to maybe make some investments in education.”
People arriving for a rapid test at the site will be required to show identification and proof of where they work when they show up, the province said in its news release.
Eligible staff can make an appointment for a rapid COVID-19 test online or by phoning the province’s general appointment line (1-855-268-4318).
The rapid testing site is open daily from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., and has a dedicated entrance and appointment stream for people using the Fast Pass service, the province said last week.
The rapid test site is run by Dynacare, a Brampton, Ont.-based medical company, while the tests are done by people trained through a new program at Red River College, using the lab-based Songbird Hyris bCUBE rapid test.
While the site is open to people from across the province, some school staff outside of Winnipeg would face long travel times to use it. The province said last week it plans to potentially open similar rapid test sites in communities across Manitoba, including Winkler and Brandon, following an evaluation period — though no update on that was provided on Friday.