Take-home COVID tests will be available at all Ontario schools soon

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Published October 28, 2021 at 3:26 pm

Take−home COVID-19 tests will be available at all public schools across Ontario starting in a few weeks, the province’s education minister announced Thursday.

The PCR tests have been available in schools in Toronto and Ottawa, and some other communities in a similar pilot project, but Stephen Lecce said now all students in public schools will have access.

“By enabling students to pick up a PCR self−collection kit at school, the program will help address barriers for students who have challenges with quickly obtaining a test at a testing centre when they’re symptomatic, or have been identified as a close contact of a confirmed COVID−19 case,” he said.

“The take−home approach will also provide convenience for parents and for families and help to potentially identify more cases to keep the schools open and safe.”

If a student develops a COVID−19 symptom or is identified as a close contact of a positive case, they can pick up a test at their school, do it at home and drop it off at a community location for processing, eliminating the need to book an appointment at an assessment centre to get tested.

Lecce also announced that unvaccinated education workers will have to undergo rapid antigen testing three times a week instead of two.

The minister said earlier this week that up to 50,000 education workers could be fired if COVID−19 vaccines were mandated for that sector. The figure includes education workers such as teachers, educational assistants, early childhood educators, principals, board staff, occasional staff and custodians, who are unvaccinated or won’t disclose their status.

The province also unveiled an expanded rapid testing program Thursday that would see students do regular tests over 10 days if officials are otherwise contemplating a whole school dismissal due to high cases.

Earlier this month, the chief medical officer of health announced that rapid tests would be made available to schools in areas of the province with high transmission. The expansion announced Thursday is for a more targeted use.

Lecce touted Ontario’s success in keeping schools safe so far this year. He said the province has one of the lowest case rates for youth under 20 in Canada, and one of the highest vaccination rates. The positivity rate for youth aged zero to 19 is lower than all other ages, Lecce said.

Ontario reported 80 new school−related cases Thursday, with 984 reported in the past two weeks. The Children’s Health Coalition, representing children’s hospitals and health organizations such as SickKids and the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, said recently that almost 80 per cent of cases in school−aged children have been traced to sources other than school outbreaks.

Allison Jones, The Canadian Press

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