Ontario students will receive rapid COVID-19 tests during the winter break

TORONTO – Ontario is preparing to send a pack of five fast antigen COVID-19 tests home with every school child in the province in time for the winter holidays, in a massive effort to screen children during the holidays and prevent infected children from entering again schools in January.

Ontario health officials said that sometime in mid-December, schools will hand out 11 million rapid antigen COVID-19 tests – enough for all of the province’s about 2.2 million public school students – with instructions to use one in three or more fourth day over the winter break starting Dec. 23.

Anyone who tests positive with the antigen tests should then take a confirmatory PCR COVID-19 test.

But participation is voluntary, and any child who does not take the lightning tests will be allowed to return to school in January.

The move is a major change from Ford’s official government policy this school year.

In September, CP24 revealed that the province provided rapid antigen testing to private schools for free, while public schools went without.

In response, elementary school parents formed groups to self-acquire rapid antigen tests and run mass-symptomatic surveillance networks themselves.

The Ford government repealed it in October, saying fast antigen tests should be held for companies.

Rising pressure led them to launch a limited program of rapid antigen testing for schools in October, using the tests only a handful of times in the GTA.

Rapid antigen tests are less sensitive than PCR tests, but cost only a fraction of PCR and take as little as 15 minutes to complete.

Officials said the province had to go out and procure additional tests from BTNX in Markham, Ont. in addition to the federal stock, which has provided them with nearly 28 million rapid tests to date, to get rapid tests for all students by mid-December.

Officials said the extra-quick test purchase cost the province $ 50 million.

They added that 100 First Nations schools in the province would also be offered packages with quick tests, but said they were not sure if all schools would accept the offer.

Now, in conjunction with a new “test to stay” program for asymptomatic children in schools experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks and the mass distribution of rapid antigen tests for the winter break, the province will also set up dozens of asymptomatic test sites in large public spaces in what they called a “Holiday Mobile Testing Blitz.”

Up to 43 test teams will be sent to shopping malls, public squares and holiday markets, sometimes in conjunction with mobile COVID-19 vaccine clinics.

The mobile test sites will be focused on areas with high COVID-19 transmission and lower vaccination rates.

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