Rapid COVID-19 test program may soon be deployed in Hamilton schools

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Published October 6, 2021 at 10:22 am

Ontario announced this week that it would roll out a rapid COVID-19 testing program for schools in areas of the province with high transmission but it’s yet to be determined if they will roll out in Hamilton schools.

The province’s chief medical officer of health said Tuesday (Oct. 5) that rapid testing can help identify cases and prevent transmission in schools and licensed child-care centres.

The tests will only be used for unvaccinated, asymptomatic children who are not high-risk contacts of a case.

Dr. Kieran Moore said the decision to implement the program will be up to local medical officers of health and parents will be able to choose if their children participate in the screening.

Up until now, the province and school boards had been relying on at-home screenings from children and parents.

The switch is a way to detect COVID-19 cases in school children at an early stage to avoid outbreaks that could lead to classroom closures.

“Where the risk of transmission is very high and vaccine coverage is low at the community or school level, this measure may provide an additional level of protection for schools and child care centres to minimize risk of outbreaks and potential closures,” he said.

“Routine rapid antigen screening of fully vaccinated individuals and children is not currently recommended given the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines as well as the risks posed by the disruption of learning as the result of false-positive tests.”

If a child receives a positive result from a rapid test, they will still need to get a lab-based PCR test to confirm it.

Hamilton has the fifth-highest COVID-19 positivity rate among the province’s 34 public health units but it will be up to Public Health Services to work out the details of a possible rapid test program in Hamilton schools.

“As we have since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, we will continue to work collaboratively with our school board partners to support health and safety measures to help protect our children and youth, education staff, our schools and our community,” said Hamilton’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Elizabeth Richardson in an emailed statement to IntheHammer.

“We are closely monitoring COVID-19 transmission and community vaccination rates and working with school boards and other health units across the province to identify when voluntary rapid antigen screening could be used in areas where risk of COVID-19 transmission is high and vaccination rates are low.”

— with files from The Canadian Press and Nathan Sager

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