TORONTO – Ontario is rolling out a rapid COVID-19 testing program for schools in areas of the province with high transmission.
The chief medical officer of health said it can help identify cases and prevent transmission in schools and licensed child-care centres. The tests will only be used for unvaccinated, asymptomatic children who are not high-risk contacts of a case.
Dr. Kieran Moore said the decision to implement the program will be up to local medical officers of health and parents will be able to choose if their children participate in the screening.
“Where the risk of transmission is very high and vaccine coverage is low at the community or school level, this measure may provide an additional level of protection for schools and child care centres to minimize risk of outbreaks and potential closures,” he said.
“Routine rapid antigen screening of fully vaccinated individuals and children is not currently recommended given the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines as well as the risks posed by the disruption of learning as the result of false positive tests.”
If a child receives a positive result from a rapid test, they will still need to get a lab-based PCR test to confirm it.
The announcement comes after groups of parents had organized surveillance testing for their schools using rapid test kits from a provincial program, but the government told agencies to stop distributing them to anyone but businesses.
Moore said widespread asymptomatic surveillance testing in schools isn’t recommended because it isn’t an effective tool.
“When you apply these tests in a low-risk setting you’ll find that you get more false positives than true positives and you’ll send people for PCR testing as a result and they’ll be off school because they have to wait for the result,” he said.