“Why do I feel so guilty?” Saskatchewan residents send rapid tests out of province

Kelly Geraldine Malone, The Canadian Press

Posted Friday, January 7, 2022 at 5:11 a.m. EST

Troy Weppler says he turned away from a Saskatoon post office worker as he put a box of COVID-19 rapid tests in an envelope to send to his family in British Columbia.

“Why do I feel so guilty for doing this?” Am I breaking any laws or is it just an ethical thing? Weppler said recalling the time during the holiday season when he felt like an outlaw.

“Everywhere I go I get tests, so why can’t I put a few in an envelope and mail them to my family?”

Weppler isn’t the only person in Saskatchewan responding to requests from families across the country for the much sought-after tests. Walk into libraries, fire stations, and some grocery stores and a smiling worker will likely offer a kit with five tests in it.

Weppler got his first box a few weeks ago when he went to cash a lottery ticket. The employee told him he won $ 20 and a free game, then handed him the kit.

This is confusing for most people elsewhere in Canada where the demand for testing far exceeds the supply. Federal Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole compared the situation to the “Hunger Games” movies earlier this week.

Federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said 140 million tests will be distributed to provinces and territories on a per capita basis this month. He said it would allow every Canadian to have one test per week in January.

But many wonder if the increased supply will make a difference in being able to find rapid tests since each province, so far, has distributed them differently.

Ontario’s contextual model for rapid testing has been widely criticized. British Columbia’s provincial health worker Dr Bonnie Henry had to assure residents earlier this week that tests were not piling up after growing public frustration.

Demand only increased with the rapidly spreading Omicron variant, and with many provinces limiting standard molecular laboratory testing to certain groups.

“Why can they get them in… grocery stores in Saskatchewan and why can’t you get them here? Scott Forbes asked.

The University of Winnipeg biology professor has a son who lives in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. He came home for the holiday season and had mild cold symptoms, Forbes said.

Forbes said his son went for a lab test in Winnipeg and stood in line for more than four hours. The family had heard that results could be delayed for up to a week. The rapid tests were nowhere to be found.

“He knew he wouldn’t get the test results for a while… so he called his girlfriend to ship quick tests from Moose Jaw.” said Forbes.

“She just picked them up from the grocery store and we got them the next day.”

Forbes said her son tested negative and his symptoms were quickly gone. He still has not received the results of the lab test.

The Saskatchewan government said this week that it has distributed more than 12 million tests to about 600 sites. About 3.7 million of these were sent to communities through public distribution networks, including libraries and fire stations, as of November.

The Manitoba government did not respond to a request to update the number of rapid tests.

Federal figures as of Dec. 17 show the province had received about 3.2 million tests. Saskatchewan had received more than 10.6 million tests, many more than its neighbors.

Federal figures showed Ontario had received about 31.8 million tests and nearly 3.4 million went to British Columbia.

Saskatchewan officials said they were getting more because they were asking for more.

Forbessaid, he wonders why other provincial governments haven’t done the same.

Marlo Pritchard, president of the Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency, said he was optimistic Saskatchewan will continue to have an abundance of rapid tests despite the federal government reporting that the public will play a larger role in distribution.

The province expects four million tests in January and again in February, he added.

In Saskatoon, Weppler said if that was the case, he would consider making another clandestine trip to the post office to help his family elsewhere.

“It’s good to be able to take this test.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on January 7, 2022.

– With files from Mickey Djuric in Regina


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