Take-home testing kits
Testing and tracing alone is not sufficient to keep COVID-19 under control, though diagnosing COVID-19 through testing does help to identify areas of risk for transmission and to limit further spread.
To address the increased demand for testing in schools, Ottawa Public Health, along with their partners at CHEO, has been offering free take-home testing kits for students and staff at schools in Ottawa – the first municipality to do so in Ontario. These kits include a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test that can replace a visit to an assessment centre. They are offered to students and staff who develop symptoms of COVID-19 or are identified as a high-risk contact and will be available in all schools this week. The take-home test kits include a combined mouth and nose swab that is easily administered and non-invasive.
Where there is concern of an outbreak, whole-school testing may be required to investigate transmission between cohorts. Take-home PCR tests are being made available to all staff and students. These PCR tests are the same as what are used when people book an appointment for a test at an assessment centre.
Rapid antigen screening
On Monday, October 6th, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore announced new guidance for targeted use of voluntary rapid antigen screening in certain schools and licensed childcare settings at the discretion of public health units. The Ministry of Health has indicated that rapid antigen tests will be available and can play a role in school screening where there is higher risk of transmission, adding to the tools available to us to help detect and control COVID-19 in our schools and community. Rapid antigen screening does not replace a PCR test for those with symptoms or who are high risk contacts – PCR testing through the take-home test kits program or through the assessment centre is still required.
Ottawa Public Health is working with Ontario Health, the Ministry of Education, local school boards, and parents to explore how to best use this new rapid antigen screening tool and implement this program in targeted schools and childcare facilities to test unvaccinated asymptomatic individuals.
OPH looks forward to sharing further details as we learn more from the Province on the implementation of this program. We expect more information to be available for parents, schools, and the community in the coming days.
Practising COVID-19 prevention measures, daily symptom screening for all children and youth attending school and appropriate testing are critical to keeping COVID-19 out of our schools.