Asymptomatic testing for COVID-19 will be starting next week in schools across Simcoe County, and local school boards are hoping for as much participation as possible.
Both the Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board and the Simcoe County District School Board will have testing clinics at a different high school each week. Students and staff from the host school and feeder schools are invited, not required, to attend.
Asymptomatic testing refers to completing swab-based PCR tests on individuals who have no symptoms of COVID-19. Testing will be completed by LifeLabs.
“There are instances of asymptomatic cases and that tends to be the scenario with younger people,” said Pauline Stevenson, communications manager with the Catholic board. “This will flag for us and the health unit so we can begin our normal process of exclusions and isolations. If there were a number of cases that came up in a school... we would be able to stop it from spreading. It’s a proactive approach, whereas otherwise we might not know.”
On Wednesday, March 3, the first testing clinic will occur through the Catholic board at St. Joan of Arc Catholic High School in Barrie from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., with students from St. Catherine of Siena Catholic School, St. Nicholas Catholic School, St. Bernadette Catholic School, Our Lady of Grace Catholic School and The Good Shepherd Catholic School also invited to attend.
The schedule after March 3 is still to be determined, although the intention is to have testing clinics on Wednesday nights for the foreseeable future.
“The idea is, we’ll rotate through all the schools in our board over the course of the campaign,” said Stevenson. “We’re trying to focus on some of the areas where the case counts are a little bit higher, or where we’ve had cases.”
While the clinic is voluntary, the board is hoping as many families as possible will participate. Families are encouraged to pre-register, although pre-registration isn’t a requirement.
Overall, Stevenson says asymptomatic testing is one of many tools being used to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“We need families to participate in this, for the larger benefit of everybody,” said Stevenson. “The more people we can have participate, the more information we’ll have and the better (equipped) we are to deal with situations that may come up.”
On Thursday, March 4, the public school board will have their first clinic at Bradford District High School from 3:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. Students and staff from Chris Hadfield Public School, Fred C. Cook Elementary School, Fieldcrest Elementary School and W.H. Day Elementary School will also be invited to attend. There will be a pre-registration and appointment process through the public board where attendees will be required to make appointments to avoid congregation.
Future dates for the Thursday night clinics will be announced as they are determined.
“We want to see how things go. Our plan is to start in the south and move north, however if there is a situation that arises at a school and it makes sense for us to pivot to a different location, then we will be doing that,” said Dawn Stephens, superintendent of education for the Simcoe County District School Board.
According to the province, a total of 3,706 students have been tested so far at 416 schools across Ontario as part of the asymptomatic testing program. Testing confirmed COVID-19 cases in 32 students, or 0.86 per cent of all those tested. Two additional tests are pending.
Communication regarding both the March 3 clinic, March 4 clinic as well as future clinics will be sent directly to families who are eligible as dates are confirmed by both Simcoe County school boards.