Ontario county opens student-only COVID-19 test sites


A county in southwestern Ontario has established COVID-19 assessment centres exclusively for school children to reduce the amount of time kids have to spend waiting for a test.

Lambton County hopes the sites will help get students back into classrooms faster if they're dealing with mild seasonal illnesses but need to rule out the possibility of having the novel coronavirus.

Two of the by-appointment centres opened earlier this month -- just as students returned to school -- and had performed 247 tests as of Tuesday. A third site was set to open Thursday. Appointments currently need to be made by phone but an online booking system is in the works.

The student-only centres have been "very, very, very busy," according to the region's top doctor.

"We knew there would be this increased demand for testing, we knew there would be a bunch of kids with mild illness, and we tried to be a little bit proactive and a little bit innovative about how we can handle it," said Dr. Sudit Ranade, medical officer of health for the county that includes Sarnia, Ont.

Currently, parents in Ontario are required to screen their children for COVID-19 symptoms daily and keep them home if they are sick. Kids with mild symptoms, like a runny nose, can return to school if they have a negative test result.

Ranade said the response to the student-only testing sites has been positive.

"The parents who have experienced it have really appreciated it and I think they appreciate the idea that we want to help get their kids back to school," he said.

Ranade cautioned, however, that what works for his region might not work for others.

Lambton County stood to benefit from student-only sites since its other COVID-19 assessment centres are small and spread out across the region, he said. A surge in testing demand when schools opened could have meant long waits for kids with seasonal sniffles if they could only get assessed at those centres, Ranade said.

Lambton County also has low transmission of the novel coronavirus at the moment, with just one active case as of Wednesday, so Ranade said it's likely that most of the children's tests will come back negative.

In Ottawa, where case numbers have risen in recent weeks, one testing site has a line specifically for kids. Two more mobile testing units were announced last week that will be dispatched at specific schools if necessary.

Vera Etches, the city's top doctor, has also recommended expanding testing hours to reduce the stress on parents who face long waits to have their kids tested.

Meanwhile, Ontario's education minister said Wednesday that he is considering following British Columbia's move to shorten its list of COVID-19 symptoms that require a child to stay home from school.

Earlier this week, B.C. officials removed symptoms including as a sore throat, runny nose, and headaches from their list.

Holly McKenzie-Sutter, The Canadian Press

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