Reaction in Ottawa to rapid tests coming to some Ontario schools

Ontario’s chief medical officer of health says rapid antigen tests will be made available to schools and licensed childcare settings, in high-risk neighbourhoods, in an added effort to reduce the chance of classroom closures and Covid-19 outbreaks.

Starting next week, local health units will be able to send rapid Covid-19 test kits to schools that have been deemed ‘high-risk’ because of an increased amount of Covid-19 cases in the community.

Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health says the test kits are an added intervention, to keep schools open safely and to minimize the disruption for parents, teachers and students.

“Local medical officers of health will determine if rapid antigen screening will be implemented in their region to local factors and needs where the public health unit has identified a need,” he says. “This testing will be voluntary parents will be able to choose I’d their children participate in this screening.”

In Ottawa, there are now 11 schools reporting outbreaks and three have closed.

Deo Lyimo’s six-year-old son Delvin and eight-year-old daughter Stara have been sequestered to at least two weeks of at-home learning, after their elementary school, St. Benedict, in Barrhaven On., was closed due to a Covid-19 outbreak.

“We just moved to the neighbourhood a month ago and they were getting new friends and get to use the school and all of a sudden the school was closed,” says Lyimo. “Getting used to school then going back to online school again it’s hard for the children to adapt.”

Lyimo welcomes the additional measure of protection for students and says taking it before school starts can provide certainty, especially as some children can experience no symptoms.

“I think it’s going to prevent those closures, and open close and open, its not healthy for parents it’s not healthy for children,” he says. “If we find it’s positive we can contact the school and we don’t send our children.”

However, a positive test result from a rapid antigen test, will require a second, more accurate and lab-confirmed, PCR test. The rapid test will be provided only to students who are asymptomatic and are not considered a high-risk or close-contact.

However Ontario’s distribution of the rapid tests is still far more limited than in other provinces.

Beginning Oct. 11 in Quebec, rapid test will be made available, and with parental consent, performed, at schools in all regions. But Dr. Paul Roumeliotis, chief medical officer of health with the Eastern Ontario Health Unit, says, right now, it’s enough.

“It adds to what we’re doing right now, people don’t realize that we are doing a lot of testing particularly when we have cases in outbreak management,” Say Dr. Roumeliotis. “Using it selectively will help us but overall I want to remind people that most of the cases we are getting are from outside of the school and are predominantly in young children, who are not vaccinated, who get it from unvaccinated positive cases.”

“We should not forget that testing screening and all these things that we do, do not replace prevention,” he said.

Ottawa Public health welcomes Dr. Moore’s announcement and is working with provincial partner and local school boards, and parents to explore how to implement the program in targeted schools.