La Ronge town council approved a motion for a new COVID-19 test site in its industrial area on Wednesday at a special meeting. The move means the Saskatchewan Health Authority can continue testing in the community for the long term.

On Aug. 4, Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said whether or not a vaccine is developed, health officials are preparing for a long-term approach to the pandemic that could last years.

Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam,
Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam is reflected in a television during a news conference in Ottawa, on Friday, Aug. 14, 2020. Photo by The Canadian Press/Adrian Wyld

“We're planning, as a public health community, that we're going to have to manage this pandemic certainly over the next year, but certainly it may be planning for the longer term on the next two to three years during which the vaccine may play a role. But we don't know yet,” Tam said in August.

“We did not realize in the beginning that (COVID-19) would be here for this long and it could be for another two years. Realistically, we’re looking at a minimum of five or six months, no matter what,” La Ronge Mayor Ron Woytowich told Canada’s National Observer on Wednesday.

The testing site is now at the Kikinahk Friendship Centre, which houses a headstart pre-kindergarten program, a prenatal program, and a youth program.

“We have 60 children in (pre-kindergarten), and it runs from September until June. I’m still not sure how we’re going to have the children enter, but we didn’t really want them going through the (COVID-19) testing site,” Woytowich said.

La Ronge Mayor Ron Woytowich in his facility as who is executive director at Kikinahk Friendship Centre as staff prepare hampers with donations for distribution to prenatal women and elders in the La Ronge community during the hight of the pandemic. Photo my Michael Bramadat-Willcock.

The move will have positive and negative implications for access to testing in La Ronge.

“The industrial area should not be where any of this stuff is, but we had no choice. For example, say I don’t have a driver’s licence right now. So how would I get there if somebody didn’t drive me? And if I had COVID, then I’m putting somebody else at risk,” Woytowich said.

On the other hand, the new location will reduce the risk for vulnerable or immunocompromised people who use the Kikinahk Friendship Centre.

“We think we’re safe, but you never know what’s around the corner," La Ronge Mayor Ron Woytowich

“You’ve got to remember there’s also up to 60 pregnant women in our prenatal programs. We’re trying to be safe,” Woytowich said.

The mayor said as a central location for health services in northeast Saskatchewan, long-term access to testing in La Ronge is essential for keeping cases down even though there have been no confirmed cases in the community so far.

“We think we’re safe, but you never know what’s around the corner. Being La Ronge, we’re lucky that we got this testing site,” Woytowich said.

The La Ronge test site has been at the Kikinahk Friendship Centre since it opened in March. Photo by Michael Bramadat-Willcock.

Saskatchewan reported two new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, bringing the total to 1,624 reported cases. The new cases are in the northwest and south central zones.

Testing is now available to anyone who requests it — if they have symptoms or not.

To get a referral for testing, contact HealthLine 811 or your doctor’s office if you are experiencing worsening symptoms. If you need urgent care, call 911.

The most up-to-date version of the Re-Open Saskatchewan plan is available online at www.saskatchewan.ca/re-open.

Michael Bramadat-Willcock/Local Journalism Initiative/Canada's National Observer