Ontario science table recommends weekly rapid tests in schools, some workplaces
TORONTO — Ontario’s group of expert advisers on COVID-19 is recommending health officials implement voluntary rapid testing in settings such as schools and workplaces in areas that reach a certain level of infection.
The science advisory table is advising public health units or neighbourhoods where new COVID-19 cases are near 50 per million people per day, and where there is sustained exponential growth, to carry out weekly voluntary screening of unvaccinated or partially vaccinated people in elementary schools.
It says health officials in those areas could also deploy rapid antigen tests in workplaces and congregate settings.
The science table says that if a health unit or area’s new daily cases approach 250 per million people per day, “weekly testing is likely not frequent enough to reduce spread effectively.”
The group says that in that case, unvaccinated and partially vaccinated people should undergo rapid testing two to three times a week.
It notes public health units in that situation may also want to look into voluntary testing of fully vaccinated people at the same frequency.
The science table says it considers rapid testing in elementary schools a priority since students under 12 are not fully vaccinated yet in the province.
But it adds Ontario could use rapid testing in “many ways” to curb the spread of the virus.
The group’s latest advice comes as calls continue to grow for broader rapid testing ahead of the holiday season.
Some workplaces in the province offer rapid tests for their employees, and the government has said children in publicly funded schools will each receive five tests to take home over the December break.
The tests, which provide results in about 15 minutes, are also available for a fee at pharmacies for travel or other asymptomatic purposes.
Critics have argued making the tests more widely available, and free for all to use, would help stave off rising infections, particularly over the December holidays.
A spokeswoman for Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott said Thursday the province had distributed more than 34 million rapid tests as of Monday, and deploys more than a million to workplaces, hospitals, and other congregate settings each week.