Low turnout for student targeted COVID-19 testing in Waterloo Region

The turnout for targeted asymptomatic COVID-19 testing appears to be low in Waterloo Region.

Officals said 198 students showed up for a swab in the past two weeks.

"I would have expected more numbers," said Zahid Butt, a public health expert at the University of Waterloo.

Butt said low numbers could lead to insufficient data.

"If there are more people tested, then you'll get a better idea of the virus in the schools," he said.

Local teachers' unions agree.

"If almost nobody is getting tested, how can you say that it's giving you an accurate picture of how many cases there actually are," said Rob Gascho with Waterloo Region OSSTF

For the past two weeks, the public and Catholic school boards have used pop-up COVID-19 testing sites already in place at Kingsdale and Victoria Hills Community Centres.

The WRDSB must provide targeted testing for six schools each week. For the Waterloo Catholic District School Board, it's two schools.

The province said each school board needs to provide voluntary testing for five per cent of their schools weekly.

"It seems to be a public relations campaign and not a health and safety campaign," said Patrick Etmanski with Waterloo Region OECTA. "Our teachers don't feel safe in those buildings."

The province has the capacity to test 50,000 students a week.

"Our government has taken action to deploy asymptomatic testing province-wide, the first program of its kind in Canada, as we recognize its strength as an additional layer of protection in our schools. Last week in Ontario, over 17,000 tests were completed for youth under 19. We lead the country in testing," Minister of Education Stephen Lecce said in an emailed statement to CTV Kitchener. "I encourage all students, staff and families to take advantage of this program – which uses the least invasive testing options possible -  when offered for their school community. Our priority is keeping schools safe and open. That is why we will continue to follow the best expert medical advice and continue to implement strict measures to protect our schools and our province.”

However, Butt said there needs to be more communication with families.

"Messaging behind asymptomatic targeted testing has to be better than it is now," he said.

St. John Catholic Elementary School was one of the schools invited for asymptomatic testing. It closed last week due to a staffing shortage following several COVID-19 cases and an outbreak. It will stay closed until March 11.

Resurrection Catholic Secondary School will host targeted testing on Saturday and Sunday between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.

The testing will be available for students in these Catholic schools:

  • Resurrection CSS
  • St. Paul CES
  • St. Dominic Savio CES
  • St. John CES

And these public schools:

  • Forest Heights Collegiate Institute
  • Westvale PS
  • Sandhills PS
  • Westheights PS
  • Meadowlane PS
  • Cenntennial PS (Waterloo)
  • AR Kaufman PS