Government announces expanded COVID-19 testing options for schools

ONTARIO – In order to support safer schools and reduce barriers to testing, the Ontario Government has announced plans to expand testing options for schools across the province.

On Oct. 28, Ontario Minister of Education Stephen Lecce announced the province is expanding its COVID-19 testing options for students and staff, in addition to increasing rapid testing requirements for unvaccinated staff, “to ensure we continue to keep schools safe, to make life easier for working parents and to ensure your child can remain in school.

“While Ontario schools are safer places to learn supported by enhanced ventilation and high vaccination rates, we are taking nothing for granted,” Lecce said in an Oct. 28 release from the province.

“By expanding access to testing and helping to better screen for COVID-19, we are protecting the progress we have made so far in keeping our schools safer for students and helping to limit disruption to the school year.”

Lecce announced the government will be offering take-home PCR kits to all publicly funded schools across the province, with a phased rollout starting mid-November.

Tests can be used by students and staff who show symptoms of COVID-19 or by anyone in the school system considered to be a high-risk contact of a confirmed case, the government says.

Students with COVID-19 symptoms or who have been identified as close contacts of a confirmed COVID-19 case will be able to pick up PCR kits at school.

Tests can be completed at home and dropped off at a provincial assessment centre or a participating pharmacy for processing.

The government also plans to expand rapid testing at schools with multiple cases of COVID-19 for students and staff who might not be showing symptoms.

Introduced as the “test-to-stay” approach, the program is intended to support continued in-person school attendance in schools and identify additional cases in a “timely manner.”

It will involve frequent rapid antigen screening over a 10-day period for asymptomatic, unvaccinated students.

While people who are confirmed cases or high-risk contacts in the school will still need to self-isolate and access PCR testing according to public health guidance, other students in the school will be able to continue attending class in person, the release explained.

The government also announced it will require unvaccinated staff to undergo rapid antigen screening three times per week, an increase from the current twice weekly requirement.

“We strongly encourage those staff members to get vaccinated, but in the meantime, we are elevating our vigilance and our expectations on them.

“This is especially important for the approximately 1.1 million students in schools who are not yet eligible for a vaccine.”

New investments

Lecce also announced an investment of $700 million in additional funding to improve HVAC and air quality, assist in retro fitting and building repairs in elementary and secondary schools as well as childcare centres.

“We are committed to stepping up our investment every step of the way as we have done ably through this pandemic and we are grateful for our frontline staff, our teachers and our doctors and our nurses and our EA’s and principals – everyone, including our parents, doing everything they can to mitigate the risk,” he said.

“This investment is going to build on that and again ensure that … we continue to keep all kids and all staff safe in the province of Ontario.”