Ontario details rapid COVID-19 testing protocol for school boards as schools report cases

WATCH: Ontario’s top doctor urges parents to screen children for COVID-19 ‘every day’ before school.

TORONTO — Ontario school boards have received more details from the province regarding protocols for unvaccinated staff who must take twice-weekly rapid COVID-19 tests.

A memo sent to boards today by the deputy education minister says testing is to be done at home, and no more than 48 hours before coming to work.

The memo says there should be at least three days between tests, and lists Monday and Thursday, Friday and Tuesday, or Sunday and Wednesday as examples of a regular schedule for testing.

Boards were directed to share the details with unvaccinated staff.

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The province has instructed all boards to introduce vaccination policies requiring workers to regularly get tested for the virus in lieu of vaccination, with a deadline of Sept. 27 to implement the new rules.

Unvaccinated employees will also be required to watch a video about COVID-19 vaccination from the Ministry of Education.

That video resource will be shared with boards “shortly,” Deputy Education Minister Nancy Naylor said in the document.

Boards are expected to use an app called Thrive Health to verify and report the COVID-19 test results to the Ministry of Health. Those that don’t use the app need to report weekly on the type and number of rapid tests used and how many results were invalid, positive or negative.

The memo comes in the second week of classes for students in most Ontario boards, as a number of schools across the province reported COVID-19 cases.

Toronto Public Health said Sunday that cases had been identified in east-end schools — Fraser Mustard Early Learning Academy, St-Michel French Catholic Elementary, and West Hill Collegiate Institute.

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“This isn’t unexpected given COVID-19 continues to circulate in our city and how transmissible the Delta variant is,” the health unit said in a Twitter statement. “(Toronto Public Health) is also investigating a number of other COVID-19 cases in our school communities.”

The Greater Essex County District School Board, which covers schools in Windsor, Ont., and the surrounding area, reported three new COVID-19 cases in schools on Monday and a total of seven active cases.

All students at an elementary school in Cornwall, Ont., were dismissed for at least a week starting on Monday over a virus case still being probed by public health.

Viscount Alexander Public School posted to social media on Sunday saying that “an individual” at the school had tested positive, with “multiple confirmed and probable exposures” at the school identified by the Eastern Ontario Health Unit.

“Your children’s teachers will be reaching out before the end of the school day either by email or phone call with information regarding remote instructions for the remainder of the week,” the school wrote in a Monday follow-up post. “Thank you for your patience and your understanding.”

A full picture of COVID-19 in Ontario schools was difficult to assess on Monday because the provincial government dashboard detailing cases in schools and daycares still had not been updated since July.

The government said Monday that the portal would be active “in the next few days.” It said boards were given a few days after the return to school before they had to start reporting cases to the province. Boards are required to report information about COVID-19 cases on their individual websites.

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Recent guidelines from the Ministry of Education have allowed schools to loosen public health restrictions on shared spaces like cafeterias as the third school year disrupted by the pandemic gets underway.

Daily screening for symptoms and indoor masking is still required.

The province is also allowing schools to hold extracurriculars like sports, though some health units including Toronto and Windsor chose to hold off on permitting those activities at the start of the school year.

Opposition politicians reacted to news of virus cases in schools on Monday by criticizing the government over its school reopening plans.

Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca repeated criticism that Premier Doug Ford’s government has not broken down how it spent federal pandemic money intended for school reopening.

“Our kids and our school reopening are at risk because Doug Ford didn’t plan and didn’t prepare,” Del Duca commented on Twitter.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath held a news conference Monday morning raising concerns about reports of large classes with more than 30 students. She called on the government to reduce class sizes to better support students and minimize COVID-19 risk.

“We all know that we need to do best by our kids, we need to do the right thing by kids in the classrooms,” she said. “Sadly, Doug Ford’s just rolling the dice when it comes to our children’s health and well being.”

A spokeswoman for Education Minister Stephen Lecce highlighted the province’s plans to “keep students and staff as safe as possible” including money spent on HEPA units and ventilation devices and screening requirements.

“Ontario’s plan, approved by the Chief Medical Officer of Health, requires distancing within schools, along with enhanced cleaning, active screening requirements and ventilation improvements in all Ontario schools,” Caitlin Clark said.

With files from Allison Jones

© 2021 The Canadian Press

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