The Ontario government announced that it will be expanding COVID-19 testing in schools and allowing asymptomatic students and staff to get a test.
Schools in the province’s four hotspots — Toronto, Ottawa, Peel Region, and York Region — will be able to take part, Premier Doug Ford and Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced on Thursday.
Under the new program, students at participating schools will be able to get a voluntary COVID-19 test if they have consent from a parent or guardian. The regions can also choose to allow teachers, staff, and family members to be tested.
Since September, Ontario has only allowed asymptomatic individuals to be tested at pharmacies, not at any of the designated COVID-19 testing locations.
“Ensuring the safety of students, teachers, and staff is our government’s top priority,” said Ford.
Lecce called the expansion of testing a “critical layer” of prevention for schools.
According to a release, testing will take place for four weeks and will focus mainly on asymptomatic students. Anyone with active symptoms or those that have been exposed to someone with the virus will need to visit an official testing location.
Each of the four regions will develop an individual testing approach that meets their local needs and testing capacity. The location and method for testing will vary between cities, the government said.
The government said the initiative will make it easier to track and prevent the spread of COVID-19 in schools, and it may also inform public health decisions and help to manage outbreaks.
However, in a release, the NDP party called the announcement a “half-measure” that wasn’t “good enough.”
“To date, 4,350 children, teachers and education workers have gotten sick from COVID-19, and two education workers have died,” said Marit Stiles, the Official Opposition Education Critic. “Half the schools in the province have already had cases of COVID-19.
“Doug Ford is brushing off all that illness and danger because he’d rather save a buck than invest to protect students.”
To date, there have been 4,349 cases of COVID-19 in Ontario’s schools.