The province today announced specific COVID-19 testing measures that will be implemented for school communities to help them reopen safely, including giving all public school kids 5 take-home antigen test kits for the winter break.
Eleven million rapid antigen screening tests will be distributed to all public schools ahead of the December break to add an additional layer of protection over the holiday period and as students return to school in January, said officials. Each student will take home a pack of five rapid antigen tests to use over the holidays and throughout the return to in-person learning.
Students will be able to drop off their specimens at a convenient community location, including participating pharmacies across Ontario, said Education Minister Stephen Lecce.
All private and First Nation schools have also been asked if they would like to access take-home PCR self-collection kits.
“By expanding testing options over the winter holiday, putting in place additional safety measures, and returning to normal timetabling, we are taking action to ensure schools reopen safely while supporting a more positive learning environment for students,” said Minister Lecce.
As the province moves into the winter season, increased contact indoors among staff, parents and children may present an increased risk of COVID-19 transmission in elementary schools. The province is introducing updated guidance, including short-term measures designed to limit the number of contacts for unvaccinated populations such as:
- Reminding school boards to communicate to staff, students and families about established federal international travel policies in advance of the December break in an effort to prevent absences in January related to post-travel requirements.
- Virtual-only school-wide assemblies for elementary schools starting in January 2022.
- Restricting lunches/breaks to classroom cohort when indoors where distancing between cohorts cannot be maintained in elementary schools.
With new guidance and enhanced testing options in place, secondary schools will also be permitted to resume a regular timetabling model of four courses a day starting February 2022.
“Getting vaccinated, adhering to public health measures and maintaining consistent and timely access to testing will be key to responding to potential outbreaks or surges,” said Dr. Kieran Moore, Chief Medical Officer of Health. “As we prepare to head inside over the winter months, and while we have paused the next step of our reopening plan out of an abundance of caution, enhancing our testing strategy is critical to protect our hospital capacity, health care resources, and the progress we have made together so far in learning to live with and manage COVID-19 in the long term.”
The province said that as COVID-19 continues to evolve, Ontario’s testing strategy will remain responsive to any scenario to ensure that anyone who needs a test, as outlined in the provincial testing guidance, can get a test free of charge in a timely manner with quick access to their results.