Pilot project to screen for COVID-19 by gargling a success in the Montérégie

A pilot project to screen for COVID-19 by gargling in an elementary school in Saint-Hubert, on Montreal's South Shore, has produced such encouraging results that it will soon be extended to all elementary schools in the Montérégie region, The Canadian Press has learned.

The project hopes to combat absenteeism, as students and teachers would no longer have to leave the premises for testing if they came into contact with SARS-CoV-2.

"We wanted to take the testing out of the testing clinics," said Dr. David-Martin Milot, public health and preventive medicine specialist with the CISSS de la Montérégie-Centre. "The gargle method is very easy to implement."

Eventually, schools may be able to organize screenings on their own, he adds, with materials provided by public health.

The samples collected will then be sent to a lab for analysis.

The pilot project worked "very, very well," Milot said -- though it was a simulation and there were no actual cases of COVID-19 at the school at that time.

In addition to parents and children not having to travel, clinics also benefited from the project because they did not have to accommodate groups of children, allowing them to focus on other patients.

"It's a win-win-win scenario for the principals, public health and the screening teams," said Milot.

An information campaign for parents will accompany the deployment of the gargle screening in participating schools in the Montérégie.

The provincial health and education ministers also recently announced that rapid tests for COVID-19 would be implemented in schools in ten regions of the province, including Montreal, Laval and the Montérégie.

A recent study led by Dr. Caroline Quach-Thanh concluded that rapid tests, when children are symptomatic, may prevent them from being sent home unnecessarily.

Rapid tests are also considered more effective when the viral load is high -- when the contagion is at its greatest -- and should be reserved for symptomatic individuals.

"Unlike a rapid screening test, (gargling) does not give an immediate result, for example, in a school," explains Dr. Annie-Claude Labbé of Maisonneuve-Rosemont Hospital. "Quick results are an advantage of rapid testing and that's why I say that the two could work together. Every little solution can contribute its part to solve a bigger problem and that's how we're going to get out of this crisis."

-- This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on Nov. 3, 2021. 

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