Ottawa doctor offering supply of rapid tests for asymptomatic children, despite provincial guidance

An Ottawa doctor is offering to supply parents with rapid tests to create their own testing program — despite guidance from the province that such a program wouldn't be effective in schools.

Even 1 case found through this testing would reduce classroom spread, doctor says

A poster advertises free COVID-19 rapid tests for asymptomatic children attending Hopewell Avenue Public School in Ottawa, offered by a parent-led volunteer group. (Vivek Krishnamurthy)

An Ottawa doctor is offering to supply parents with rapid tests to create their own testing program — despite guidance from the province that such a program wouldn't be effective in schools.

Dr. Nili Kaplan-Myrth, a family physician in Ottawa, has ordered hundreds of the rapid-test kits through her office with the intention of supplying parent volunteers who want to test asymptomatic children. 

"I'm worried about my patients and seeing kids who are getting COVID who are in school," said Kaplan-Myrth.

"If we catch any positive results through this, then that's one child who isn't going to be spreading it to the rest of their classroom."

The supply will provide about six schools with about 180 rapid-test kits each, enough to test about 45 kids a week for the next month according to Kaplan-Myrth. She said so far, the interest from parents has been overwhelming.

Province now considering use of rapid tests in schools

Her offer is in spite of previous provincial guidance, which recommended against wide-spread asymptomatic testing for students. Last week, Ontario's chief medical officer, Dr. Kieran Moore, told reporters that large-scale antigen testing doesn't significantly limit the spread of COVID-19 and can produce false positives that lead people to get unnecessary PCR tests and burden labs. 

However, during a media briefing Wednesday, Moore said the province was reviewing the possible application of rapid testing in schools "especially in high risk settings where there's been previous outbreaks or where there's high risk of community spread."

Moore added that the current system of using PCR tests for symptomatic children is effective and that he's "very happy with our ability to limit outbreaks in the school setting."

WATCH | Rapid antigen tests not sensitive enough for some COVID-19 cases, OPH says

Rapid antigen tests not sensitive enough for some COVID-19 cases, OPH says

1 year ago
Duration 1:31
Dr. Vera Etches, Ottawa’s medical officer of health, and Dr. Alan Forster with The Ottawa Hospital, say rapid antigen tests aren’t currently used in schools because PCR tests are much more sensitive.

Parents say tests could make school year 'less stressful'

The position has been a source of frustration and confusion among parents, especially because of the StaySafe program, which supplies kits to businesses so workers can be regularly tested, even if they're not displaying COVID-19 symptoms.

"If we have a tool here that can make life easier for people and can give people some reassurance, then why wouldn't we use it?" asked Regina Bateson, a parent and volunteer in Ottawa hoping to organize a rapid-testing program for students.

"The pandemic is still ongoing and it's easy for people and the rest of society to forget that sometimes," she said. "But you know for us, every day we wake up and ... part of my routine is checking the list of what schools have outbreaks, which ones don't. It's just, it's very stressful." 

Regina Bateson is one of several parent volunteers trying to organize a rapid-testing program for asymptomatic children. (Vivek Krishnamurthy)

Currently, St. Benedict Catholic Elementary School in Barrhaven is closed due to a COVID-19 outbreak and parent Michelle Coates-Mather believes rapid tests could have made a difference.

"It's really the only way we could get ahead of these types of outbreaks and really make sure we're preventing them," Coates-Mather said.

For its part, Ottawa Public Health announced Wednesday new initiatives to make take-home testing more accessible for parents as case counts in classrooms grow, including tongue or cheek swabs that can be taken at home and returned to the lab for testing. They will be offered at schools and children's hospital CHEO.

However, those tests are for symptomatic children only. 

Alan Forster, vice-president of innovation and quality at The Ottawa Hospital said "the rapid antigen test does not have a role ... in the schools."

With files from Matthew Kupfer

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