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Ontario to roll out rapid testing at schools in COVID-19 hot spots


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Ontario to roll out rapid testing at schools in COVID-19 hot spots

The province is set to announce rapid COVID-19 testing in schools in high-risk areas that would also allow for widespread testing in cases of outbreaks to help keep students in class, sources say.

Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, is expected to make the announcement on Tuesday morning at Queen’s Park about the rapid antigen testing program for hot spots, after signalling last week that such a move was in the works.

A source familiar with the plan told the Star that it will go beyond surveillance testing to include a “test to stay” strategy that will minimize student and staff time away from schools during outbreaks.

The testing will be run by individual public health units along with local school boards, the source said.

The move comes as the government has come under increasing pressure from parents and opposition critics to provide more testing in schools — especially for elementary students who, because they are under 12, are not yet allowed to be vaccinated.

Since the beginning of August, some 2,430 COVID cases have been recorded in the province’s schools, mostly in students. In total, there are two million students in Ontario’s public schools.

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Five of the province’s 4,844 schools are currently closed because of COVID-19 outbreaks.

Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca has repeatedly called on the government to “significantly deploy” rapid tests into schools.

The boost in testing also comes as news broke that about 80 per cent of education workers have reported being fully vaccinated.

“Doug Ford needs to make vaccines mandatory for education workers so kids can stay safe and schools can stay open,” said Green party Leader Mike Schreiner in a written statement. “A vaccination rate of 80 per cent among education workers is not good enough when children under 12 are still ineligible for the vaccine and are at an increasing risk from the Delta variant.”

In August, the province announced a pilot program to run in September and October in some high schools to distribute take-home tests to high school students and staff exposed to COVID-19.

A memo to education directors said the pilot program would target 13 public health units — encompassing about 40 boards, including those in Durham, Peel and York regions — and that “through this pilot, students and staff who are vaccinated and asymptomatic will receive a take-home self-collection kit when they have been identified as a high-risk contact as part of an identified cohort or outbreak.”

Kristin Rushowy is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @krushowy

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