Ontario to provide select school communities with rapid antigen testing

© Can Stock Photo / kartinkin

Possibly as early as next week, Ontario will provide rapid antigen COVID-19 testing in schools and licensed childcare centres, but only those considered at high risk of transmission.

Chief Medical Officer of Health Doctor Kieran Moore said local medical officers of health would determine which schools based on a list of factors including, how many cases there are in the surrounding community, what the vaccination rate is, and if the school has a history of outbreaks.

It will be used only on students who are unvaccinated, asymptomatic, and considered low-risk contacts. It will be voluntary, and parents will administer the test at home.

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

Students who test positive will be required to get a PCR test at an assessment centre and self-isolate until the results are known. Those who test negative can go to school.

Moore said the new testing option is another tool in the province’s toolbox to keep the transmission in schools low, reduce dismissals, and keep schools open.

“Targeted, asymptomatic screening could help to detect cases in schools earlier, and reduce the risk of ongoing outbreaks or closures, particularly in communities across the province that have a high prevalence of active COVID-19 cases,” Moore explained.

Up until now, the Ontario government has resisted calls for increased testing in schools, but Moore said the science continues to evolve.

“We’ve been reviewing the literature around the globe, in particular in the U.K and some areas of the United States,” said Moore. “It saddens me every time we have to close a school — when that occurs we’re looking for any other new intervention that we can put in play to minimize the disruption for parents, for teachers and for workers. We do think the rapid antigen testing has that defined role.”

Meanwhile, Moore said he is eager for Health Canada to approve the COVID-19 vaccine for children aged five to 11. He said the province plans to hit the ground running with a rollout.

“All doors will be open to the five to 11-year age group, whether it be through pharmacy, through immunization clinics in partnership with public health, or in partnership with their primary care providers,” he said. “We just need some details from the federal government on how much vaccine, when, and how we can distribute it.”