Rapid tests will soon be deployed to two Montreal high schools, in hopes of finding out if they can make schools safer and help curb the spread of COVID-19.
“The goal is to use them to test children with symptoms but also to do random testing in 25 per cent of the school every week to see if we’re able to catch earlier on those who could be asymptomatic carriers,” said Dr. Caroline Quach, pediatric infectious diseases specialist at Ste. Justine Hospital.
Quach is spearheading the project, testing students at Calixa Lavallée in Montreal North and Pensionnat du Saint-Nom-de-Marie in Outremont.
Researchers hope to find out how effective rapid tests are in detecting and preventing the spread of the virus.
Quach added that the project will also study if staff and students can be brought back to school earlier from isolation — after seven days versus 14 days.
“We’ll be able to understand better the transmission within a school — understanding if really it is the same virus that is being transmitted or if there are multiple points of entry,” she said.
The project, which will begin on Monday, is being welcomed by the chosen schools, who say rapid testing could be a great resource.
“If proven effective, rapid testing in schools could be a great way to better understand how this is transmitted,” said Antonella Picillo, director of student services at Pensionnat du Saint-Nom-de-Marie in Outremont. “It’s also a way for us to react quickly. If the result, a positive result, is given quickly, we can then isolate the student, isolate the class, without having to worry about wait time.”
Rapid testing has been available in Quebec for months, but the province has been hesitant to use them, saying the tests have a lower accuracy rate and higher risk of false negatives.
But many experts have urged the government to use the tests, saying they can help limit outbreaks.
Heidi Yetman, president of the Quebec Provincial Association of Teachers (QPAT), said the union has been asking for rapid testing since the fall.
“It’s good, it’ll be interesting to see some of the earlier results, but we should have been doing this way sooner,” she said. “And that’s the problem with this government from the beginning of this — it’s always been reacting to things instead of saying, let’s be proactive, let’s put in the measures we need to be on the safe side.”
Olivier Drouin, parent and founder of a website that tracks COVID-19 cases in schools, said he’s also been hoping for rapid testing to be implemented in schools.
“I would like to understand the real picture around the number of positive cases,” he said. “We know children are often asymptomatic, so these technologies around rapid testing, they allow us to get that picture.”
The pilot project is set to last until the end of the year.
Monthly updates will be sent to the Health Ministry, which will then decide whether or not to integrate the tests in schools across the province.