s part of efforts to screen students over the holidays, Ontario is preparing to provide a pack of five rapid antigen COVID-19 tests to each student in the province before winter break. This measure will be implemented to screen students over the holidays, as well as prevent infected students from returning to schools in January.
According to Ontario health officials, schools will begin distributing 11 million rapid antigen COVID-19 tests to students starting in mid-December in order to serve all 2.2 million public school students in the province. Furthermore, students will receive instructions to use one every three or four days over the winter break, which will start on December 23.
Furthermore, students who test positive with the antigen tests will be required to take a subsequent PCR COVID-19 test.
However, taking the tests is not mandatory and students who do not wish to take the rapid tests will be allowed to return to school at the end of winter break.
“It is really premised at getting them back to school safely in January,” said Education Minister Stephen Lecce in a written statement.
Although Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore had previously stated that there was no need for mass asymptomatic testing due to erroneous results, according to his latest statement, rapid tests will provide an additional layer of protection in the winter due to the expected increased number of COVID-19 cases.
“The major risk that we had is going to into the winter months – we had 711 cases today and we’re anticipating our rates going up, and as rates go up the sensitivity to the test will be very good and the number of false positives will be less,” Dr. Moore said.
Despite rapid antigen tests being less sensitive than PCR tests, they are more affordable and can provide results significantly faster.
In addition, 100 First Nations schools in the province will also be offered packs of rapid tests.
Together with the new “test to stay” program for asymptomatic students at schools experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks and the distribution of rapid antigen tests for the winter break, the provincial government plans to implement dozens of asymptomatic testing sites in major public spaces in what has been referred to as “Holiday Mobile Testing Blitz.”
A total of 43 testing teams will be present in malls, public squares, and holiday markets, sometimes together with mobile COVID-19 vaccine clinics. According to CTV News, the mobile testing sites will target areas of high COVID-19 transmission and lower vaccination rates.