SASKATOON -- A long-term care expert says staff should be frequently tested for COVID-19 to control Saskatchewan’s growing number of outbreaks.

More than 25 personal care homes in Saskatchewan are dealing with outbreaks.

For the first time, multiple COVID-19 deaths have been reported at a Saskatoon long-term care facility.

Four residents at Luther Special Care Home have died from COVID-19. As of Wednesday, 39 residents and 14 staff members have tested positive at the facility.

Vivian Stamatopoulos is a professor at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology. She specializes in family caregiving and is an advocate for those in long-term care facilities.

She says asymptomatic staff are often the ones unknowingly spreading COVID-19 in care homes, and is calling for staff to be tested at least once a week.

“We need very frequent and expedited staff testing at these facilities. That’s something other jurisdictions have done and shown it’s really crucial in controlling the rolling outbreaks that will continue, unless you properly isolate and detect COVID as soon as it gets into the homes,” Stamatopoulos told CTV News.

Scott Livingstone, the CEO of the Saskatchewan Health Authority, said a pilot project for surveillance testing is underway at eight care homes in the province – with plans to expand.

Surveillance testing, also known as pool testing, cuts down on time and resources by using one test for several samples.

“We’ll be putting that surveillance in place, increasing our testing, to try and identify cases early to ensure we keep those residents in long-term care as safe as possible,” Livingstone said.

The CEO said using more personal protective equipment and restricting visits are other ways to reduce transmission.

However, Stamatopoulos believes safe visitations are possible – and vital for seniors’ health.

“Residents are dying not only from COVID, but from the very serious impacts of isolation and extended, prolonged confinement. We just can’t do that to these seniors anymore. We have evidence, you can bring one-to-two family caregivers in very safely,” she said.

The visitation restrictions are in place until Dec. 17.

At that time, Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab will decide whether to extend or loosen the rule.