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School boards preparing to test students, staff for COVID-19

Testing will be done on voluntary basis, ADSB states

While Algoma Public Health (APH) officials work on details of mass immunization for the Sault and area, including where COVID-19 vaccination sites will be located and when they will open, school boards are getting ready to test their staff members and students for the virus.

“Algoma District School Board (ADSB) is now working through the process of selecting school locations where testing will occur,” wrote Fran Walsh, ADSB communications officer in an email to SooToday Monday.

In February, the Ministry of Education announced plans to expand targeted COVID-19 testing in schools for students, children and staff across Ontario. School boards have been asked to undertake asymptomatic targeted testing in at least five per cent of the elementary and secondary schools within their jurisdiction each week.

A government memo is encouraging boards “to prioritize schools in areas of high transmission, high case numbers, and schools where access to current testing programs may be challenging. While the five per cent target is on the number of schools where testing will occur, boards are also asked to reach two per cent of their student population per week. Testing will be for asymptomatic students and staff only.”

“Consent will be required and the testing will be done on a voluntary basis. We will be communicating with school communities in the next week or so as we confirm our plans,” Walsh stated.

The process will involve a combination of rapid antigen and PCR testing.

Rapid antigen testing consists of taking a swab from the back of the nose or throat, or from saliva. The process, in some cases, can show results within 15 minutes.

PCR testing, involving a nasal swab, has been called the ‘gold standard’ in COVID-19 detection. Test results are available in two to three days, or in as little as 24 hours. Results can take a week or longer if there is a big demand for testing.

“Algoma District School Board is now working through the process of selecting school locations where testing will occur. We are also in conversation with our co-terminus boards (such as the Huron-Superior Catholic District School Board, or H-SCDSB) to determine if targeted testing could be done jointly. As always, we will be working very closely with our three local Public Health Units to facilitate continued collaboration. Our PHUs (Algoma Public Health, Sudbury Health Unit and Porcupine Health Unit) will continue to be responsible for investigation, contact tracing and case management support in confirmed cases,” Walsh wrote.

“We have had communication with the Ministry of Education, our testing vendor and our local health units about the targeted testing of asymptomatic students and staff. We are in the early planning stages and are working together to create a board plan. More information will be available soon,” stated Christine Durocher, H-SCDSB superintendent of education in an email.