Rapid testing for COVID-19 has started in two Montreal schools.
Researchers are screening staff and students at Pensionnat du Saint-Nom-de-Marie in Outremont and Calixa-Lavallée high school in Montreal North, hoping to find out how effective the tests are at detecting and preventing the spread of the virus.
“They’re testing 25 per cent of our students who have consented and 25 per cent of our staff who have consented,” said Antonella Picillo, director of student services at Pensionnat du Saint-Nom-de-Marie.
Dr. Caroline Quach, pediatric infectious diseases specialist at Ste. Justine Hospital, is the lead researcher. During a press conference to launch the project she told Global News, “(what) we’re hoping to do is see if this rapid antigenic detection test has any added value in terms of outbreak in schools setting on top of screening.”
Asymptomatic volunteers are picked at random weekly to be tested. Before this, according Picillo, if a student tested positive for the virus, their entire class had to be isolated for 14 days, making schoolwork more challenging for students.
The aim of this pilot project is to find out if the quarantine period can be shortened.
“(The students) would be tested many, many times between the day that they’re sent home for their quarantine to the day that they would come back to school,” she explained.
Quach said the results are available in 15 minutes. She pointed out the rapid testing was approved by Health Canada last fall but that she and others researchers needed a few months to set up the pilot project.
The project will last for six months, she noted, to see if this kind of testing makes sense.
“Then it’s possible that the (Quebec) minister of health will deploy some kind of rapid testing in other schools,” she explained
There have been calls from the public for rapid testing in Quebec schools for months. One reason health officials were skittish about employing it is that it is said to be less accurate, but Quach insisted that the frequency of the rapid testing should make up for that.
School authorities say they are happy about the pilot project.
“I think rapid testing would be the most expedient way of being able to control and manage any possible outbreaks or incidents,” said Noel Burke, Chair of the Lester B. Pearson School Board.
Sixteen year-old Fatiha Benarous, a secondary 4 student at Calixa-Lavallée, agrees, saying the stress of being out of school in isolation has been too much.
“I found this year really hard,” she told Global News. “I found it really stressful and the rest of my class feels the same way.
They hope this test will eventually help make things a little easier.