Dr Kieran Moore announced the new rapid antigen screening program at a morning press conference. Testing will only be provided to unvaccinated, asymptomatic children who are not considered high-risk contacts of a positive COVID-19 case, Moore said. In Ontario, children 11 and under are not yet eligible for vaccination against the novel coronavirus.
Local public health units will have the discretion to order the tests, Moore added, depending on several key factors such as the level of transmission of the virus and the rate of vaccination in the community where a school is based, and the history of COVID-19 in a particular school or child care facility.
Participation in the screening program is optional and tests will be performed at home. Children who test negative can continue in-person classes. Those who test positive will need to undergo laboratory PCR testing and isolate until the results of the second, more precise test are known, Moore said.
Rapid antigen testing is “another tool in the toolbox” when it comes to reducing school-related cases and epidemics and keeping students in class, he said.
About a third of the province’s 5,004 active COVID-19 cases are in school-aged children. Moore said, however, that transmission within schools remains relatively low.
Ontario said last week that a task force had been established to begin planning for immunization of children aged five to 11, though there is considerable uncertainty as to how and when this effort will be take place.
Speaking yesterday, Education Minister Stephen Lecce said about 80 percent of education workers in Ontario have been fully immunized.
Today’s announcement comes after parent groups organized surveillance tests for their schools using the rapid test kits, but the provincial government told agencies to stop distributing them to anyone except to businesses.
Moore said widespread asymptomatic surveillance testing in schools is not recommended because in very low-risk settings, rapid tests may produce more false positives than true positives. False positives keep children from going to school any longer, Moore added, and lead to a “cascade of unnecessary PCR tests.”
Ontario’s three COVID-19 advisory tables have also warned against asymptomatic mass testing for the province’s two million students.
Moore is also expected to hold a weekly briefing Thursday to update the province on the response to COVID-19.