Communitech ordered to stop supplying rapid COVID-19 test kits to parent groups

Free COVID-19 rapid testing kits supplied by the government are no longer being given to community groups in Waterloo Region.

Communitech said their volunteers made a mistake after supplying the test kits to groups that are not small businesses.

Communitech is one of many agencies across the country running what they call a "Stay Safe" program, supplying free test kits.

A representative with the StaySafe program at Communitech in Kitchener said the Ministry of Health recently contacted them and ordered them not to supply COVID-19 rapid tests to their “ambassadors,” roughly 4,000 parents and other individuals who were previously allowed to sign up and receive regular supplies of test kits, no questions asked.

Communitech and the Stay Safe program distributes the tests on behalf of local chambers of commerce and all three levels of government.

A memo sent to those who had applied for tests at Communitech said their volunteers misunderstood the purpose of the program.

"Some of the communications you received from StaySafe, as Ambassadors, clearly implied that general community group use was a key part of the Ambassador program. We want to apologize for this - that was our fault, not yours. Our program volunteers work so hard to keep you updated and supplied - this was an honest mistake by volunteers who were not fully aware of the program parameters," the memo reads.

Parents in a local school group had organized a pop-up testing site at Mary Allen Park in Waterloo. The aim was to give parents extra peace of mind as their kids are going to school but are not yet eligible to be vaccinated.

But this morning, the Ford government said the rapid kits should not be going to parents. The public is now being told these kits were only supposed to be given to small businesses.

Communitech said all orders made before 2:30 p.m. Wednesday would be filled, but after that, each would have to be reviewed individually to ensure they are for business use only.

Prior to the deadline, Meaghan Gibbons, a parent of three, picked up kits.

"It's difficult as a parent knowing they are going into a space where maybe 40 minutes a day they have their masks off eating lunch. You can't do that at restaurants. You can't do that unvaccinated in all sorts of places," she said.

The Ontario Chamber of Commerce, which oversees boards of trade who distribute the rapid test kits, said they were always only intended for small businesses.

Parents and community groups however, say this was an oppurtunity to find rapid testing where supply was limited elsewhere.

"I know that I filled out my application honestly about what I was planning to use the test for, to keep my family safe, to help stop spread in my community, to help stop spread in schools, and to help inspire local businesses to use rapid testing," said parent Kimiko Shibata. "Waterloo Region was just trying to step up and fill the gap left by this government and it feels like we're being punished for it."

Meanwhile, makeshift pop-up testing sites, like one in Waterloo, are happening all across the province to help arents of children under 12 have some peace of mind.

"Any case that gets caught before it goes into the classroom is one cohort that isn't having to isolate, which was the whole reason for setting this up," said parent Courtney Walker, who drove in from Toronto to pick up kits to share with other parents.

With files from CTV Toronto.