While Ontario creeps towards 85 Percent of eligible residents being fully vaccinated there is still a concern about outbreaks, in schools, particularly elementary schools where the students are too young to be vaccinated. Starting next week, the province has authorized the rollout of rapid antigen screening in schools where the risk of transmission is highest. Dr Kieran Moore, the Chief Medical Officer for Ontario, says the decision to deploy the tests will be left to the discretion of local Medical Officers.
The testing will be voluntary.
In making the announcement the accompanying provincial news release was careful to point out that the existing reopening plan. Implemented by Education Minister Stephen Lecce was effective, noting, “while vaccines and existing classroom prevention strategies – such as masking, cohorting and daily symptom screening measures – remain key defences…targeted asymptomatic screening has the potential to detect cases in schools earlier and reduce the risk of outbreaks and closures, particularly in communities across the province that have a high prevalence of active COVID-19 cases,”
COVID-19 rapid antigen screening for child care and school age children will proceed as follows:
Local Medical Officers of Health will continue to monitor local COVID-19 transmission and vaccination rates to identify when to implement rapid antigen screening in parts of their region based on local factors and needs.
Rapid antigen screening will be used only for unvaccinated asymptomatic students and children who are not high-risk contacts. Symptomatic or high-risk contacts should continue to access lab-based PCR testing available at assessment centres and other collection centres.
Where the local public health unit has identified schools or child care centres that would benefit from this screening, rapid antigen screening tests will be made available. Parents will be able to choose if their unvaccinated asymptomatic children will participate in this screening offered by their schools or licensed child care settings.
Unvaccinated children participating in the program will be able to conduct the rapid antigen screening at home with instructions.
Children who receive a positive result will be required to seek a confirmatory lab-based PCR test at a local assessment centre or specimen collection centre and isolate until the result of that lab-based PCR test is known. Children who receive a negative result on a rapid antigen screening test will be able to continue in-person learning. More detailed information including duration and frequency will follow.
I Hamilton, of the 20 active outbreaks reported Monday more than half are in schools or child care setting, typically with fewer than five cases.