School officials say asymptomatic testing starts next week

Children wearing face masks in school. (File photo courtesy of © Can Stock Photo / tomwang)

The directors of education at the local public and Catholic school boards said voluntary asymptomatic school testing will start in early March but where they will take place is still being determined.

After some consultation with the public health units in Chatham-Kent and Sarnia-Lambton, Education Director of the St. Clair Catholic District School Board Deb Crawford said GVT Lab and Imaging Services will be doing the testing at a yet to be determined site in Chatham and another site in Sarnia not yet selected starting March 5, 2021.

Crawford said the private company from Beeton has dedicated two teams to test students and staff for seven weeks from March 5, 2021 to April 16, 2021 inclusive to conduct targeted testing on Friday evenings and on Saturdays. She also said the plan was set to be confirmed at a meeting on Thursday afternoon, but added that her board is very flexible when it comes to getting the testing done.

Education Director of the Lambton Kent District School Board John Howitt said school communities will get all of the information about where the testing sites are and how to register for appointments once the asymptomatic testing plan is complete.

“We’re facilitating the testing within our facilities but we’re at an arms-length from it,” he said.

Howitt also said both public health units will get results so they can follow up on confirmed cases that come from the testing.

Howitt previously said the plan is to have tests complete on staff and students at three public schools each week but stressed the testing is not mandatory. He said parental consent forms must be signed before the student testing is done. Meanwhile, Crawford said the plan is to have about five per cent of the local Catholic schools tested each week.

The province announced expanded asymptomatic testing in early February to keep schools and child care settings safe. According to the provincial government, the tests will offer an additional layer of protection and help keep schools and child care centres safe by identifying cases that might otherwise have gone undetected; reducing transmission of COVID-19 from community into schools and within schools; and reducing barriers and making it easier to get a test in your community.

In the fall, more than 9,000 asymptomatic students, staff, and household members got tested for COVID-19 in over 60 schools in Toronto, Peel, York, and Ottawa during the first phase of the targeted testing program.

The province reported about two per cent of the tests showed a positive result for COVID-19 during this phase, with the majority of positive cases coming from household cases and not staff or students within schools.