SASKATOON -- With five Saskatoon schools now reporting confirmed COVID-19 cases, the Saskatchewan Health Authority opened a voluntary testing centre at Holy Cross High School on Thursday.

While a confirmed case of the illness was found at the school earlier this week, the testing centre had already been in the works. 

The school is one of three in the province selected to offer voluntary testing as part of a plan announced on Sept.4.

Grade 11 student Matt Mercredi said SHA staff have taken over the school’s library and are testing students for COVID-19. 

“Everyone is wearing suits and everything is looking safe and they just put a thing in your nose for five seconds,” he said, adding the experience wasn’t bad at all. 

He said he got tested because a lot of carriers of the virus are asymptomatic and he wanted to make sure he wasn’t a carrier. 

“I just wanted to make sure, and the information is helpful to try and stop the spread of COVID-19 so I just did it for that,” Mercredi said. 

He added he feels safe in school because staff and teachers have taken safety precautions, and students are wearing masks and maintaining physical distance from one another. 

“I’m not in danger,” he said. “And it’s not too hard to wear a mask and sanitize.”

The SHA offered testing at Campbell Collegiate in Regina on Sept. 16 and will provide the service at Carlton Comprehensive High School in Prince Albert on Thursday and Friday. 

On its website, the SHA says if any student is experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 or have been in close contact without someone with symptoms, referral testing can be arranged through the public HealthLine 811. 

In addition to Holy Cross, cases of COVID-19 have been found at École St. Peter School, St. Joseph High School, St. Mark Community School and Bethlehem Catholic High School.

Patrick Maze, president of the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation, said the low number of cases in schools is evidence the disease isn’t spreading there.

“Our big concern is with the class composition and the number of students inside classrooms and the recommendations that the general public has for social distancing that are ignored in the school system,” Maze said.

The Ministry of Education hasn’t addressed that problem in its back to school plan, he said.

The current amount of testing is a “drop in the bucket,” he said.

“We’d like to make sure testing is more available, we’ve had concerns from the start about capacity to test a large school community.”

Premier Scott Moe said during the provincial update on Thursday that with no evidence of the virus spreading in school, safety protocols are working.

“So I would say thank you to the students, to the teachers and to all the staff for everything they’re doing to ensure our classrooms are safe.”

Chief Medical Officer Dr. Shaqib Shahab said investigation into a large gathering in Saskatoon and subsequent contact-tracing has found that one or two cases in Saskatoon school have links to the gathering.

The gathering is believed to be responsible for 21 positive cases of COVID-19 with more expected to come.

“This speaks to the fact that you get multiple chains of transmission and you get that snowball effect but that has been addressed, the children are isolating,” Shahab said

--With files from Josh Lynn