Ontario’s chief medical officer of health announced a new “targeted” COVID-19 rapid test program in schools and licensed child care settings.
“The program will support access to voluntary, rapid asymptomatic screening for unvaccinated children and students,” the Ford government said on Tuesday.
Tests will be made available at the discretion of the local medical officer of health, based on “local epidemiological circumstances.” Parents will be able to choose if their child can participate.
The rapid tests will be used only for unvaccinated students with no symptoms who are not high-risk contacts of a case.
For those who test positive, they will need to confirm that through an assessment centre or specimen collection centre and isolate until they receive that result.
Those students who test negative on the rapid test will be allowed to continue in-person learning.
“Targeted asymptomatic screening has the potential to detect cases in schools earlier and reduce the risk of outbreaks and closures, particularly in communities across the province that have a high prevalence of active COVID-19 cases,” said Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore.
The announcement comes after groups of parents had organized surveillance testing for their schools using the rapid test kits, but the government told agencies to stop distributing them to anyone but businesses.
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Moore has said widespread asymptomatic surveillance testing in schools isn’t recommended because it isn’t an effective tool.
“When you apply these tests in a low-risk setting you’ll find that you get more false positives than true positives and you’ll send people for PCR testing as a result and they’ll be off school because they have to wait for the result,” he said.
As of Tuesday, government figures showed there were 796 out of 4,844 schools in the province with at least one COVID-19 case. Six schools are closed as a result of positive cases.
Provincial data says more than 81 per cent of youth aged 12 to 17 have gotten their first vaccine dose, while 73 per cent have received a second one.
Moore said a working group involving the province and the Hospital for Sick Children is preparing for an eventual approval of vaccines for kids between the ages of five and 11, and is looking at prioritizing kids with medical conditions.
The government has declined to add COVID-19 vaccinations to the list of mandatory immunizations for children to attend school, such as measles and chickenpox.
—With files from The Canadian Press