Ottawa COVID-19 testing centres, labs boost staffing ahead of return to school

Ottawa’s COVID-19 assessment sites and labs in the region are boosting their capacity to test for the novel coronavirus ahead of a return to classrooms in September, hoping to avoid the long lineups of families outside testing sites that marked last year’s back-to-school season.

Ottawa’s COVID-19 testing task force issued a statement Friday assuring parents that it’s better positioned today than in last year’s September debacle, which saw hours-long waits for swabs and turnarounds lasting days in some cases before families knew whether a runny nose was a sign of COVID-19 or just allergies.

Click to play video: 'Long wait times for COVID-19 testing at some Ontario sites' Long wait times for COVID-19 testing at some Ontario sites

Long wait times for COVID-19 testing at some Ontario sites – Sep 17, 2020

The city’s testing capacity was still in the midst of scaling up a year ago to meet the unprecedented demand that came with back-to-school, but is now well-established with test results ready in 24 to 48 hours, the task force said.

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“Ottawa’s labs and testing locations have also increased staffing levels in anticipation of kids
returning to school,” the task force wrote in its announcement, adding that assessment centres are prepared to further boost capacity if needed.

Appointment-based systems that were just starting to be implemented last fall are now the standard across the city, with same-day bookings often available.

Students who start to develop possible COVID-19 symptoms at school will also be able to skip the assessment centre entirely thanks to a new take-home test kit option.

Read more: Ottawa-Carleton board releases back-to-school plan ahead of vaccine policy decision

Children will be sent home from school with a PCR test that parents can administer themselves, and an Ottawa Public Health courier will arrange to have it taken directly to a lab. The initiative was piloted at a select few schools last spring and at day camps in Ottawa this summer.

Screening requirements have also changed ahead of the return to school, focusing on new or worsening symptoms most likely to identify a case of COVID-19. In cases where another cause is likely, such as with seasonal allergies, a test won’t be required for the student to attend class.

Widespread vaccinations, though they don’t yet cover those born before 2009, are another change from last year’s situation.

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Dr. Vera Etches, Ottawa’s medical officer of health, has said that fully vaccinated students will often not need to self-isolate when exposed to a likely COVID-19 case.

Should young children require a COVID-19 test this fall, the testing task force recommends they visit the Moodie, Ray Friel or Brewer Arena testing sites, or community health centres in the city.

Click to play video: 'Some Toronto schools to give take-home COVID-19 testing kits for students this fall' Some Toronto schools to give take-home COVID-19 testing kits for students this fall

Some Toronto schools to give take-home COVID-19 testing kits for students this fall

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