Ontario announced a new strategy to deploy rapid COVID-19 testing in schools across the province where many children are not yet eligible for vaccination.
The rapid antigen tests will be made available through participating public health units where transmission of COVID-19 is high. The rapid tests will be voluntary, according to the province.
“In the face of Delta we want to have this testing available for a risk-based strategy, we still, […] do not recommend widespread testing of the 2 million children that are going to school on a daily basis,” Dr. Kieran Moore, chief medical officer of health, said in a press conference on Tuesday.
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The rapid testing will be deployed based on local factors such as COVID-19 spread and vaccination rates. The tests will only be for students who are not fully vaccinated, asymptomatic, and not high-risk contacts.
The province recommended that those who are symptomatic or high-risk contacts get a PCR test. High-risk contacts are those who have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive with COVID-19.
The decision to deploy rapid testing will be up to local public health units with guidance from the province.
“They will be the ones identifying what schools they think are at risk, where there are trends in the community that they have high pockets of unvaccinated individuals and or high-risk of transmission in the school settings, those are the real targeted schools, but we want them to stay open and to stay safe,” he added.
The testing will be able to be done at home with instructions. If a test yields a positive results, the child will have to get a PCR test to confirm then isolate until the second results are available. Only children who test negative will be able to go to class.
As of October 5, 81% of Ontario students between 12 and 17 have at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 73% are fully vaccinated. Children under 12 are not yet eligible to get vaccinated.
On Monday, Minister of Education Stephen Lecce said that nearly 80% of education workers were vaccinated. By comparison, 86.5% of the general population in Ontario has been vaccinated.
“I personally am disappointed if it truly is 80%,” Dr. Moore told reporters on Tuesday.