COVID testing strategy expanding to keep Ontario kids in class

Unvaccinated staff will have to undergo rapid antigen screening three times a week

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Ontario is improving access to and frequency of COVID-19 testing in schools but has not moved to mandatory vaccination for all education workers.

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Instead, unvaccinated staff will have to undergo rapid antigen screening three times a week, up from twice a week now.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced Thursday that these measures will support in-class learning.

“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 a statement. “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.”

Ontario schools have reported 984 additional cases of COVID-19 over the past two weeks: 882 in students, 95 in staff and seven cases where the individual was not identified.

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The province will provide take-home polymerase chain reaction (PCR) self-collection kits to all publicly funded schools starting in mid-November, building on a 160-school pilot program, Lecce said.

For instance, a student in a household with confirmed cases would be able to pick up a PCR kit at school.

Unvaccinated students will be subject to a new strategy that involves using rapid antigen screening tests at the direction of public health units.

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“The newly introduced ‘test-to-stay’ approach, intended to support continued in-person school attendance in schools with multiple cases of COVID-19, involves frequent rapid antigen screening over a 10-day period for asymptomatic, unvaccinated students in a school that might otherwise require whole school dismissal,” a government statement says.

“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 school in person.”

aartuso@postmedia.com

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