A private diagnostics centre that has provided COVID-19 tests to film productions and professional sports teams will begin processing swabs for the provincial government Thursday in an effort to clear a mounting backlog of tests.
Dan Omeniuk, chief executive officer of BioScision Diagnostics, said his firm has been contracted by the province to run up to 1,100 COVID-19 PCR tests each day and to establish at least one swab collection site in northeast Winnipeg.
Omeniuk said the Winnipeg-based business has been providing private COVID-19 test services for more than a year and was contracted to process and sequence samples for the provincial government about six months ago, after responding to a request for proposals.
"This variant has caused this imbalance of testing and they’re just leaning on us to do this," Omeniuk said. "They contacted us to reinstate some contractual work for them in the next few months to help out."
Since last week, provincial COVID-19 testing capacity has been overwhelmed as thousands of Manitobans wait in hours-long lines on foot and in their vehicles each day to be swabbed, and wait several days to get their results. At least 10,700 COVID-19 samples are backlogged at provincial laboratories.
Omeniuk said his operation uses the same diagnostic equipment as Cadham Provincial Laboratory and Dynacare — which is also contracted by the government to process test samples — but is supplemented by a faster PCR testing system that can run a high volume of tests at once.
"This is just a ramp-up," he said. "We will bring on a couple more personnel based on the how the government sees our services required, but we expect good things out of it.
"I think the results that we will provide will be very good for the public."
If requested, BioScision could run more samples a day, he added. The typical turnaround time for a test result will be 24 hours or less.
The logistics of establishing another swab site, which could collect up to 250 samples a day, were still being worked out Wednesday.
A spokesperson for the province’s Central Services Department declined to answer questions about the agreement with BioScision, citing its contractual agreement with the firm.
Meanwhile, Manitoba Association of Health Care Providers president Bob Moroz slammed the province for failing to bolster public laboratory capacity throughout the pandemic.
"Unfortunately, this agreement, the details of which are still unclear, will do nothing to address the long-standing capacity issues in our public labs, driven by years of understaffing and lack of investment," Moroz said in a statement.
The union represents more than 1,000 laboratory professionals working at Shared Health and Dynacare.
"Our labs are at a breaking point and the government refuses to acknowledge this ongoing crisis or come up with a plan to address it," he said. "Instead, they’re serving up yet another private agreement behind closed doors, while an apparent hiring freeze continues in our public laboratories."