REGINA -- Testing and contact tracing are the key parts of the Saskatchewan Health Authority’s offensive strategy against COVID-19.

The SHA is working towards providing 4,000 tests per day and in an effort to increase the province’s testing capacity, new rapid testing options are being added at health care facilities.

"We’re expanding point of care testing options into long-term care and other areas, which will support our immediate responses in those environments," SHA Emergency Operations Chief Derek Miller said during Thursday’s update.

Rapid point of care testing units will be used in hospitals in Regina, Saskatoon, Prince Albert and Moose Jaw, while rapid antigen tests will be rolled out at long-term care and personal care homes, as well as congregate living settings.

Results from the rapid tests are available in 15 minutes and will be used for screening asymptomatic staff and residents. All positive results from the rapid tests will be presumptive and need to be confirmed by a laboratory test.

This move is being applauded by Extendicare, which runs several care homes in Saskatchewan.

"We are encouraged by this effort and hopeful it will lead to widespread asymptomatic testing throughout Saskatchewan," Matthew Morgan, chief medical officer at Extendicare, said in a statement.

"We have continued to press for asymptomatic testing, and strongly believe it is critical that we implement weekly testing of all staff."

Extendicare’s Parkside facility in Regina had an outbreak declared last week after 14 residents and staff tested positive for the virus. It’s facility in Moose Jaw has also dealt with a pair of cases.

"Transmission by asymptomatic individuals is a major source of spread in long-term care" Morgan said. "Ongoing testing of staff on a regular basis is required to identify sources of the virus and remove them from the home before residents become infected."

There are currently 30 outbreaks in long-term and personal care homes in the province.

Thousand of hours needed for contact tracing

Saskatchewan health officials are urging residents to lower their number of close contacts to take pressure off contact tracers.

"We certainly need to both decrease the number of positive cases and contacts if we’re going to get ahead of this virus," SHA CEO Scott Livingstone said.

The number of close contacts per positive case has dropped from 11 to seven over the past week, however some positive cases have had as many as 150 contacts.

Our current average of 268 cases per day is leading to thousands of hours of work for contact tracers.

"If we take that over a two-week period and apply the average number of contacts per case, it creates more than 32,000 hours of work for contact tracers in a two-week period of time," Livingstone said.

The SHA is working on adding staff to perform contact tracing for at least 450 cases per day, which it says would create upwards of 72,000 hours of work for contact tracers in two weeks.