Asymptomatic COVID-19 testing begins at high-priority Toronto schools in new pilot project

Thousands of saliva tests have been handed out to staff and students at several Toronto District School Board (TDSB) schools this week as part of a new pilot project aimed at earlier identification of asymptomatic COVID-19 cases.

Michael Garron Hospital is one of several hospitals participating in an effort to make testing faster and more accessible — particularly in neighbourhoods in the city’s east end that have been hard-hit by the novel coronavirus. 

Dr. Janine McCready, an infectious diseases physician at Michael Garron, said there are two main reasons children could be sent home with a test: they have symptoms or they are exposed to someone in their class who contracted COVID-19. 

However, students and staff without any symptoms are also being tested to catch more cases earlier on. 

“It’s really to make it easier for families and schools,” McCready told CBC Metro Morning host Ismaila Alfa earlier this week. 

“We recognize how challenging this is and how tired everybody is, but it’s still so important to get tested … We’re trying to do these small things to fight this virus together.”

The pilot project is being run by the Ministry of Education, along with the Toronto District School Board and several hospitals, with the goal of regularly testing staff and students at 130 schools in Toronto’s east end. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

 

The project, which is being run by the Ministry of Education, officially launched earlier this week. It comes as weeks of online learning came to an end on Tuesday for thousands of students and parents across Toronto with many children heading back to classrooms for in-person learning. 

McCready said the goal is to eventually make asymptomatic testing regularly available at all 130 schools in east Toronto. 

How it works 

As part of the project, hospitals are pop-up hubs for testing where children can take home a test or complete one on-site. 

Parents can complete the take-home tests by swabbing their child’s mouth or nose and then dropping it off at one of several locations. 

In the case of a positive test, one of the program leads will call the family to inform them of next steps. 

WATCH | CBC’s Natalie Kalata speaks to parents and students about asymptomatic testing in schools: 

The Ministry of Education, along with the Toronto District School Board and multiple Toronto hospitals, have begun asymptomatic testing in high-priority areas as part of a voluntary pilot program. Natalie Kalata has the reaction from students and parents. 2:19

Dr. Julia Orkin, who is leading the school based testing for the Hospital For Sick Children, said the tests are painless and simple. 

Not only that, but people can pick up multiple kits for their entire family. 

The take-home kits consist of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, which means a parent or guardian can complete them by swabbing their child’s mouth or nose and then dropping it off at one of several locations. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

 

“It’s so important because, first of all, often individuals who can transmit COVID-19 can be asymptomatic. The second is that now that we have opened schools, we need to ensure schools are as safe as possible,” Orkin told CBC Toronto on Thursday. 

 

Orkin said she hopes the early detection of cases will prevent outbreaks — including those caused by emerging coronavirus variants — and therefor prevent the closing of schools. 

“If we do find a positive sample with a variant of concern then we can work in collaboration with our public health units to ensure quick action is taken to prevent rapid spread,” she said. 

Asymptomatic testing is currently being conducted in schools in Toronto’s east end. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

 

Orkin said her hospital has a team of people ready to go to support cases and exposed cohorts. 

“We are, absolutely,” she said. 

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