FUREY: ‘Test to stay’ is the plan that will really keep Ontario kids in class

While widespread asymptomatic testing could become little more than a fishing expedition that leads to more kids needlessly isolating at home, “test to stay” is the opposite

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There’s a misleading narrative about testing in Ontario schools that needs to be addressed because it’s missing important information about what could be the key to keeping kids in class.

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What happened was some parents banded together to get rapid tests for their kids’ schools in the hopes that kids and even parents would get tested weekly for COVID-19. It’s not for close contacts of someone who tested positive or for anyone showing symptoms. It’s the opposite: Widespread asymptomatic testing.

Once the government got wind of this, though, they explained that this approach to testing is only funded for workplaces, not schools. So that brought an end to the parents’ plans and now a whole bunch of voices, including NDP Leader Andrea Horwath and Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca, are demanding the Ford government revise the rules. They claim tests are needed to keep kids in class.

But even the organizers of this testing acknowledge that’s not true. “You may not be able to prevent a classroom from going home, but hopefully you prevent many kids from getting sick and the outbreak getting out of control,” said parent Sam Kaufman, in a CBC story about his efforts to bring asymptomatic testing to Toronto’s Earl Beatty Public School.

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What that CBC story did not mention was that this past March a student at Earl Beatty tested positive for the Delta variant. One hundred kids were sent home for isolation and the entire school was tested. After the results for 300 tests came back, there wasn’t a single positive case.

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If that’s what happens when there is a confirmed case within the school, it makes you wonder what’s the point of replicating that exercise when there are no identified cases. It also makes you wonder if perhaps there’s a better way of doing things other than sending dozens of families into isolation.

It turns out, there is. Parents may want to shift their advocacy away from widespread asymptomatic testing to calling for something that’s known as “test to stay,” which the Ontario government already says it’s considering.

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“It would be difficult for us to test two million children every day or twice a week or three times a week,” Dr. Kieran Moore said at his regular press conference last week. “So we’re trying to have a strategy where if the community rate is rising like it is in some of our areas in Ontario and there are certain schools that continue to have outbreaks or high absenteeism, that’s an environment where I think having a test to stay in the class … may be very, very helpful to keep children in the classroom.”

What happens with “test to stay” is that students only get tested if someone in their cohort is found positive — and they are tested several times throughout their potential infection window. But throughout it all they stay in class (unless, of course, they test positive). No school days missed. No isolation. No families sent into turmoil.

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“An increasing number of school districts are turning to testing to keep more children in the classroom and avoid disrupting the work lives of their parents,” explains a recent article in The New York Times on the rollout of test-to-stay in multiple U.S. states.

Despite attempts to politicize the issue by the opposition, asymptomatic testing of kids was opposed by Moore and the Ontario Science Table before any Ford cabinet minister ever weighed in on it.

Meanwhile, adopting “test to stay” would bring Ontario more in line with how school cases are handled in British Columbia, which doesn’t send entire cohorts home and hasn’t suffered any the worse for it.

While widespread asymptomatic testing could become little more than a fishing expedition that leads to more kids needlessly isolating at home, “test to stay” is the opposite. It’s the real plan to keep kids in class.

afurey@postmedia.com

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