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Tips for parents when students comes home with COVID-19 rapid tests

Public school students across Ontario will be sent home with five rapid antigen tests on Friday December 10th. Testing is expected to begin December 23rd and done every 3 to 4 days thereafter.

Ontario families will receive five rapid antigen tests to be used over the holidays

COVID-19 antigen rapid test kits are being sent home with students in London, Ont., ahead of the holiday break. (Rebecca Zandbergen/CBC)

Ontario students are being asked to take a different kind of test over the winter school break when they arrive home with rapid antigen testing kits.

Five rapid tests will be sent home with each student sometime between now and December 17th, depending on when each school receives the shipment.

Sheila Builder, superintendent of student achievement with the Thames Valley District School Board, says its a preventative measure to help keeps kids safe when they come back to class. 

So what do parents need to know? Builder offered this advice: 

When to test?

  • Every three to five days, starting Dec. 23.

Who to test?

  • Students who are asymptomatic.
  • Students who have not been in contact with someone who has tested positive.

What's in the kits?

  • Five rapid antigen tests as well as instructions on how to administer them.
  • Translated instructions for families who may need them in a different language.
  • Extra information in the case of a positive test result and contact details for assessment centres.

So you've got the results

If it comes back negative, you don't do anything. Builder says schools do not require documentation and children return to class as usual, continuing to follow public health guidelines. 

If the rapid test comes back positive, it is considered a positive preliminary test. A PCR test is required to confirm the positive case. This secondary test should ideally be taken within 48 hours of the preliminary results.

As per public health guidelines, Builder says close contacts must isolate until the case is confirmed.

Examples of the rapid antigen test produced by the U.S. medical devices company Abbott, one of four rapid tests available in Ontario. (Robert Short/CBC)

Rapid test versus PCR test

Both tests use a nasal swab to collect nose and throat secretions but the similarities between the two end there. 

Rapid antigen tests provide results within 15 minutes but are considered less accurate. It's more common to get a false negative or a false positive with rapid antigen tests. For those who receive a negative rapid test but are still feeling under the weather, it is generally recommended that a person take a PCR test.

That's because PCR tests are considered the gold standard when it comes to Covid 19 testing. It uses a polymerase chain reaction to identify the virus while a person is actively infected as well as after the acute illness.

The downside to the PCR tests is that the results take longer than the rapid tests. The general timeline is three to seven days, but that could be longer during peak periods.

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