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“We have seen before that increased screening of children returning to school reveals more COVID-19in our community,”said Etches in a statement.
Etches said she expects the rise in positive tests to stabilize once students are back in school, “an environment that has demonstrated the public health measures are successful in preventing further transmission.”
The province announced Friday that it would employ rapid COVID-19 tests for students and their families, but details are still being worked out.
Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams said the rapid tests will be a quick and convenient way of assessing students with mild symptoms. The tests are less uncomfortable than the traditional nasal swab, and results can be ready in an hour or two.
Testing sites will be set up “in and around schools,” said Williams. Discussion are under way with local public health units. Williams said he didn’t know if testing would start by Feb. 10, the tentative date for students to return to in-person classes in hotspots like Toronto, Peel, York, Hamilton and Windsor.
The province has also promised that “targeted” testing of asymptomatic students will be conducted at the discretion of local public health units.
Some medical experts as well as education unions and Opposition critics at Queen’s Park have called on the government to introduce widespread asymptomatic testing at schools to identify cases of COVID-19, control outbreaks and gain more understanding of transmission.
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The government had promised last summer that a program to test asymptomatic high school students would be introduced when schools reopened, but that never happened. A pilot program of asymptomatic testing was conducted in late November and December in Ottawa, Toronto, Peel and York, with more than 9,000 students, staff and family members tested.
The council representing Ontario medical officers of health said Friday that COVID-19 testing should be employed where it will have the most benefit. With the arrival in Ontario of more contagious variants of the virus, same-day testing and quick tracing of close contacts are critical to prevent the spread of the virus, said the letter signed by Dr. Paul Roumeliotis, chair of the Council of Ontario Medical Officers of Health.
Using rapid testing for people with symptoms will “support earlier detection and containment of the virus,” the letter said.
“The role of testing asymptomatic students or staff for COVID-19 as a surveillance tool, outside of an outbreak, identifies few additional cases, suggesting that widespread asymptomatic transmission does not commonly occur in the school setting. Enhanced testing around cases and in outbreak situations will enable testing resources are utilized to provide the best gains.”
Ottawa Public Health held several school pop-ups last fall to test asymptomatic students, staff and family members. That will continue, OPH said in a statement, with priority given to: schools with outbreaks or a high number of high-risk close contacts who need testing; areas where there are neighbourhood clusters of the virus or where COVID-19 rates are higher than average; and disadvantaged areas where families might have difficulty getting to a regular testing centre.
This content was originally published here.