Lethbridge schools still awaiting rapid COVID-19 screening tests as summer break approaches

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As the end of the 2020-21 school year approaches, some Lethbridge schools are in the dark when it comes to their role in the rapid COVID-19 test expansion. Eloise Therien hears from local divisions on what they want moving forward. – May 25, 2021

The expansion of the COVID-19 rapid testing program in Alberta schools was announced on April 10 after a successful pilot in Calgary schools in March.

Now, with students heading back to school after spending weeks learning from home, the province has announced the program will resume.

As of May 19, close to 11,000 tests in 40 Calgary and Edmonton schools were conducted, 44 of which turned up preliminary positive results.

Read more: Alberta increasing access to COVID-19 rapid testing program

On May 19, Education Minister Adriana LaGrange announced the program would be “moving ahead as planned” this week in several communities, including Lethbridge, with a focus on grades 7 to 12.

According to school districts in Lethbridge, only one school will be receiving kits this week and it’s not in the initially targeted age group.

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“This current school week, we have Galbraith Elementary School who will be participating in rapid testing,” said Lethbridge School Division superintendent Cheryl Gilmore. “That rapid testing will begin on Thursday and it will run for two days, Thursday and Friday.”

Gilmore said she wasn’t entirely sure why Galbraith was selected but suspected it had to do with middle and high schools heading back online sooner, as well as case numbers.

Click to play video: 'COVID-19: Results revealed for rapid testing project at Montreal schools' COVID-19: Results revealed for rapid testing project at Montreal schools
COVID-19: Results revealed for rapid testing project at Montreal schools – May 17, 2021

She said Chinook High School is expecting to receive rapid testing next week as well, but no other schools have been confirmed.

“Our original list included Winston Churchill, LCI, G.S. Lakie, Wilson Middle School, and Senator Joyce Fairbairn,” Gilmore said.

When asked about the reasoning behind choosing an elementary school, a spokesperson with Alberta Education provided a statement to Global News.

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“From the onset of the program, we were clear that while junior and senior high schools will be prioritized, testing can be expanded when a need is identified at a specific school,” said Nicole Sparrow with Alberta Education.

“Provincial officials will work with school authorities to determine which schools will participate. This decision is based on a variety of factors, including the prevalence of COVID-19 in the school and community.”

Read more: Southern Alberta school districts react to COVID-19 rapid testing expansion

While rapid tests aren’t as accurate as lab tests conducted by Alberta Health Services, they are meant to be used as a preventative measure.

Ken Sampson, superintendent with the Holy Spirit Catholic School Division, said they don’t have many details about how the rapid testing will take place within their division but a couple of schools have been pinned to take part.

“We were going to have two schools that would be participating in the rapid-testing program: Father Leonard Van Tighem School, on the west side, as well as Catholic Central (High School) here in Lethbridge,” he explained, adding communication from the province and the testing teams will go directly to the principals of each school.

Both divisions said if rapid screening tests were pushed to the fall, they would work with provincial health authorities to follow their directives.

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As of Tuesday, the Lethbridge School Division confirmed one active COVID-19 case, with two people in quarantine, while the Holy Spirit Division had zero cases.

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