Manitoba is making COVID-19 rapid tests available for free to First Nations schools leading into the holiday season.
The government announced Friday the tests will at first be available to students in kindergarten to Grade 6 at 57 schools on First Nations, as well as six schools in the north, before eventually making them available at all schools across the province.
“We know many children under the age of 11 have not yet had the chance to become fully immunized, which is why are targeting the tests to younger students,” Education Minister Cliff Cullen said in a government release Friday.
“As we receive more tests, we will provide kits to other school divisions to ensure we can keep schools open and a safe place for children to learn.”
Each kit will contain five tests. Officials say parents can test their children every three or four days as they return to school after the winter break.
“While our best tools for families to celebrate safely this holiday season are still vaccination, staying home when you are sick, mask use and reducing contacts, rapid tests are another tool that can be used to help screen for cases and provide peace of mind to parents and caregivers,” Health Minister Audrey Gordon said in the release.
“Based on the supply we have, we have started to provide rapid test kits to First Nations schools and will expand the distribution to other K to 6 students across the province as we receive more tests.”
The department of central services said the province has secured 110,000 individual tests from the federal government with another 110,000 expected to arrive soon.
The kits are being made available to communities on a voluntary basis and will be distributed through the schools.
The department said 22,000 students are eligible to use the kits. However, the initial amount won’t cover the entire population.
“We are providing kits to these harder to reach parts of the province that take longer to get to and supply options may be disrupted so we’re taking advantage of the reasonable weather now to get these out to these communities,” the department said.
The province’s education department said the majority of COVID-19 cases in schools involve children under the age of 12 and elementary schools have had the most outbreaks.
The province was not able to say when rapid tests would be available to other schools, but noted distribution would be based on several factors, including vaccination rates, vulnerability risks and location.
The province also said it started with the north because of the higher rate of vulnerability to COVID-19 in Indigenous communities.
Officials are working to find the most effective way to make testing kits more widely available to others in Manitoba, the province added in its release.
–With files from Brittany Hobson at The Canadian Press
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