Gargling test to screen for COVID-19 rolls out in elementary schools across south western Quebec

Rapid testing for COVID-19 rolls out in schools across the province. (File/Global News)

A pilot project to screen for COVID-19 by gargling, set up in an elementary school in Saint-Hubert, will soon be extended to all elementary schools in the Montérégie region.

The project is expected to lower absenteeism by preventing students and their teachers from having to leave their school for a screening test in the event of contact with SARS-CoV- 2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

“We proposed to take the screening out of our designated screening clinics,” said Dr. David-Martin Milot, a specialist in public health and preventive medicine from the public health department of the CISSS de la Montérégie-Centre. “The gargling method is very easy to administer.”

Ultimately, schools may be able to organize screening independently, he said, with materials provided to them by officials. The samples collected will then be sent to the laboratory for analysis.

The pilot project “worked very, very well,” Milot said, even though it was only a simulation since no real COVID-19 cases had been detected at the school where it was held.

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Designated screening clinics also benefit since the new screening protocol at schools frees up their capacity to treat other patients.

“It is a win-win-win scenario,” Milot said.

An information campaign for parents will accompany the roll-out of gargle screening in schools in the Montérégie region.

Rapid tests and gargle tests play complementary roles. A recent study led by Dr. Caroline Quach-Thanh concluded that rapid tests have a role to play when children have symptoms, which could prevent them from sending them home unnecessarily.

Rapid tests are also more effective when the viral load is high, which is when the contagion is greatest, and they should be reserved primarily for symptomatic people, which is not the case for gargle tests.

“Unlike a rapid screening test, (gargling) does not give a result immediately, for example in a school,” said Hôpital Maisonneuve-Rosemont’s Dr. Annie-Claude Labbé. “That is why I am saying that the two modalities could have complementary interests. Each can contribute … to a bigger solution and that’s how we’re going to get out of this crisis eventually, I think.”

Quebec’s Ministry of Health and Social Services and the Ministry of Education recently announced that rapid COVID-19 screening tests would be implemented in schools in ten regions of the province, including Montreal, Laval, and the Montérégie.


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