Science table to issue recommendations on COVID-19 rapid tests

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Published December 7, 2021 at 11:58 am

TORONTO — Ontario’s science advisory table on COVID-19 is set to release new recommendations on rapid testing, amid growing calls for the tests to be made more widely available.

Dr. Peter Juni, the scientific director of Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, says the group will publish a science brief on the issue Wednesday.

He says it would make sense “from a scientific perspective” to use rapid tests more often, particularly in schools, workplaces and other congregate settings.

Juni says it’s unclear at this time how the tests perform with the new Omicron variant of the virus, but he says they are effective with the Delta variant, which continues to account for the bulk of cases in the province.

Opposition legislators have been calling for the province to distribute rapid tests more broadly, particularly in schools.

A spokeswoman for Health Minister Christine Elliott says the province currently has 5.75 million rapid antigen tests in its inventory, and as of Nov. 29, has handed out 33.35 million.

Ontario has been distributing about a million tests each week and is ramping up during the holiday period, Alexandra Hilkene said. That  includes 11 million tests earmarked for public and First Nation schools and tests that will be sent to pop-up sites in higher-risk areas, she said.

The government has said it plans to send five rapid tests home with all students over the December holidays.

Families across the province have long sought access to rapid tests, which have previously been made available in areas of high transmission for students with COVID-19 symptoms or considered a close contact of a confirmed case.

Liberal Leader John Fraser said more tests should be handed out, particularly in the winter months, which have typically seen infections rise.

“I’m still bewildered as to why millions and millions of rapid tests are sitting in warehouses unused, undistributed, when jurisdictions across the world who use rapid tests, they’re giving them to families, they’re giving them to people at airports,” he said. “It’s just another tool to protect us.”

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said Monday the tests, which are also sold in some pharmacies for asymptomatic people who have not been in contact with a confirmed case, should be free.

“Nobody should have to pay for a rapid test. That should be part of our public health-care system,” she said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 7, 2021.

The Canadian Press

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