Montreal

Rapid COVID-19 testing underway at 2 Montreal high schools

Asymptomatic students at two Montreal high schools are undergoing rapid COVID-19 tests. It's part of a pilot project to help determine how effective the seldom-used tool can be at preventing outbreaks in schools.

A quarter of participating staff and students will be tested at random every week

High school students at two Montreal high schools are undergoing rapid COVID-19 tests as part of a pilot project. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

Rapid COVID-19 testing kits have mostly been gathering dust since the federal government delivered them to the province last fall, but some of them are finally being put to use in two Montreal high schools.

Asymptomatic students and staff are being tested at random as part of a pilot project, in an effort to determine how effective the tests can be in detecting and slowing down classroom outbreaks.

The two high schools taking part in the project are Calixa-Lavallée in Montréal-Nord and the Pensionnat du Saint-Nom-de-Marie in Outremont.

A slow rollout of the rapid tests began Monday with staff at the Pensionnat, in an effort to put apprehensive students at ease. 

"Yesterday was sort of a practice run," said Antonella Picillo, the school's director of student services. "We wanted to really make the students comfortable, so some staff members even got tested in front of students just to show them that it's a quick and easy test."

A quarter of the students and staff from both schools who gave their consent will be tested every week, and those who test positive will be isolated.

Dr. Caroline Quach, a pediatric infectious diseases specialist and medical microbiologist at Sainte-Justine Hospital, is heading the project, and will provide regular updates to the Quebec government. 

The project will also look at the impact of bringing students and teachers back to school after seven days versus 14 days.

The rapid tests — which can be produce results in as little as 15 minutes — will be used to monitor those brought back from isolation early.

The province received more than a million rapid testing kits last fall, but most of them have yet to be deployed due to concerns over reliability.

With files from CBC Montreal's Daybreak

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