Children will miss fewer classes during an outbreak and closures could be avoided with a new program that will roll out rapid COVID-19 testing to schools in hot spots and target unvaccinated students, the province’s top doctor said.
With the highly contagious Delta variant circulating, “there is a place for this type of testing,” which will begin as early as next week and will also be available in daycares, said Dr Kieran Moore.
Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health called the rapid tests a “valuable tool in keeping schools open,” which the province decided to implement after reviewing data from similar programs in the UK and the United Kingdom. United States.
“Where the risk of transmission is very high and immunization coverage is low at the community or school level, this measure can provide an additional layer of protection for schools and daycares to minimize the risk of epidemics and potential closures.” Moore told Queen’s. To park.
“It saddens me whenever we have to close a school for a brief period to take a series of tests and / or quarantine students for 10-14 days,” he also said.
“When that happens, we look for any other new intervention that we can implement to minimize disruption to parents, teachers and workers, and to keep this school open, but to do so safely. “
Although experts said the move was necessary, they were also concerned that false negative rapid test results could lead to a false sense of security.
“If there is an epidemic and (public health) is considering closing a school, this is potentially an additional measure that you can use – you can say, ‘You can come back to school if your test is negative, ”said Dr. Anna Banerji, professor of pediatrics at the University of Toronto. “My concern is the false negatives. “
Dr Irfan Dhalla, co-chair of a federal COVID-19 testing and screening advisory group, said rapid antigen testing “is not a silver bullet, but it is a valuable part of a strategy multi-component ”and something his band had suggested earlier this year.
He said false positives are not a problem, but “false negatives are of greater concern” especially if rapid tests are used instead of PCR tests, in which samples are analyzed in the lab.
“If there is only one case in a school, close contacts would have to undergo a PCR test, but then rapid tests could be provided to all other children in the school or to their parents and they could find a transmission they didn’t know about before, ”added Dhalla, who is also vice president at Unity Health Toronto.
This approach is consistent with the province’s program, which will be implemented by local health units with the assistance of school boards.
The new testing plan comes as the government comes under increasing pressure from parents and opposition critics to provide more testing in schools, especially for elementary students who, because they have less. 12 years old, are not yet allowed to be vaccinated.
“We will do whatever it takes to keep students and staff safe,” said Cathy Abraham, president of the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association. “We did find out about it because, as you know, companies have been able to use it and have been testing for a while now, so for a couple of weeks now we’ve been saying, ‘What about the schools? ”
NDP Education Critic Marit Stiles, who also called for rapid testing, said the government “should have used every tool available to keep children safe and keep schools open safely. safety ”and that Premier Doug Ford took action only in light of reports from parents implementing rapid tests on their own.
“These parents are puzzled by this reversal and are waiting to see if their schools will be included in the deployment of this strategy. … They desperately want to avoid the kind of turmoil and turmoil that their children went through last year, ”she said.
The Star revealed details of the new plan ahead of its release. In a note sent to school boards early Tuesday, Education Minister Stephen Lecce and Deputy Minister Nancy Naylor said home screening tests are for unvaccinated students – currently students under the age of 12. are not eligible for vaccines – “without symptoms and not considered high-risk contacts of a case.” The tests are voluntary.
Children with symptoms and those considered to be “high-risk” contacts “must continue to access PCR tests at a local assessment center or community laboratory,” said the rating obtained by the Star.
In Ontario, more than 81 percent of children aged 12 to 17 have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 73 percent are double vaccinated.
The Toronto District School Board is now asking students to voluntarily disclose if they have been vaccinated. However, even those who have received a double dose will still need to be screened daily before being allowed into the building.
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