Seventy-two schools in the Montreal area will start using rapid testing Monday to detect COVID-19 infections.
“Those rapid tests will be available in four places in Montreal and Laval,” education minister Jean-François Roberge told Global News. “Chomedy, Montreal North, Saint-Michel, Parc Extension.”
The minister said the schools are in areas where vaccination rates are low and infection numbers are high.
With rising case numbers in the province, there have been concerns raised about the possibility of outbreaks in schools.
Teachers, parents and health experts have long called for rapid testing, but there are concerns about how it’s being rolled out.
“What surprises me is that it’s school staff that will be administering these tests,” said Heidi Yetman, president of the Quebec Provincial Teachers Association.
She insisted that special staff should be hired to perform the screening when necessary. But according to the education minister, the teachers who will carry out the testing are prepared.
“Everyone at those four specific spaces are well-trained and able to run the test if they need to,” he explained.
Still, Yetman pointed out that it’s unfair to staff, already swamped with other tasks, to now also screen for COVID.
“Even if they are simple and the training is easy, we need to take the burden off school staff,” she said.
The other matter that concerns her is that testing is only starting now.
“It’s interesting that we’re not starting it right away as school started,” she noted. “We know that the cases have already started in the schools quite substantially.”
According to the website Covid Ecoles Quebec, which tracks infections in schools, 705 schools in the province have recorded at least one positive case since the beginning of the school year.
Roberge said the reason the tests are rolling out only now is that they were waiting for authorization from health officials.
Experts like Dr. Nitika Pai, clinical epidemiologist at McGill University, stress that rapid testing does have value.
“First, you can actually get your test result within 15 to 20 minutes,” she said, “and that is an advantage in an outbreak setting.”
She added that people testing positive can then be isolated quickly and that such tests are complementary to regular PCR testing.
The education ministry recommends that kids who have symptoms stay at home.