Take-home COVID-19 test kits given to 64 Ottawa schools
63 more publicly-funded schools enrolled for home kits next week, according to Dr. Ken Farion
Health officials in Ottawa want to increase access to COVID-19 testing with take-home kits offered to students and staff, starting with 64 schools in the city.
Ottawa Public Health (OPH) has partnered with CHEO, eastern Ontario's children's hospital in Ottawa, to roll out the first phase of the project this week with 63 more schools enrolled for next week, according to Dr. Ken Farion, the operations lead on the Ottawa COVID-19 Testing Taskforce.
Farion says the goal is to have all publicly-funded schools in Ottawa involved in the program as soon as possible, and then hopefully expand to private schools.
"We want to support those families and make sure that they're able to access testing when they need testing," said Farion.
The test kits will be offered to students and staff who develop symptoms of COVID-19 or are identified as a high-risk contact.
WATCH | Dr. Ken Farion on take-home tests being rolled out in select Ottawa schools:
If those people have been fully vaccinated and test negative, they can return to school the next day. If they are unvaccinated, they will still have to isolate for 10 days, but can use the free test on day seven to avoid having to go to an assessment centre, he added.
The kits, which are not rapid tests, can be returned to the school or the assessment centre at Brewer Park to be processed in a lab.
"We're hoping this will increase access, decrease barriers to testing, and be more convenient to parents and their children," said Dr. Brent Moloughney, Ottawa's deputy medical officer of health.
Ontario is launching a similar take-home COVID-19 testing project across the province this week, but the government has faced criticism the program is too limited in scope.
The provincial program is only for staff and students who are both fully vaccinated and asymptomatic, and only in targeted high schools in 13 public health units.
Higher risk neighbourhoods a priority
The program in Ottawa focuses on schools in neighbourhoods where people may be at higher risk and where there are a greater number of COVID cases, contacts and transmission.
Ayesha Zeeshan, a mother of three teenagers, lives in the Bayshore-Belltown neighbourhood, which has seen a high concentration of COVID-19 since the pandemic began.
She said the at-home testing kits will help people who can't leave work to get their children tested, or have unreliable transportation.
WATCH | Ayesha Zeeshan says take-home COVID-19 tests should be very useful:
"It's an awesome idea from the point of view it could save time for the parents, especially for the single parents," Zeeshan said.
She does have some concerns about false negatives, but thinks the benefits outweigh that risk.
Her daughter, 16-year-old Eemaan Haroon, is starting Grade 11 at Bell High School and said she thinks the kits will encourage others her age to get tested when they should.
"I think kids would be more likely to do it if they're at home because they're lazy. We're lazy. Students are lazy," Haroon said.
Take-home tests less invasive
The take-home tests are less invasive than tests conducted at assessment centres because they include a combined mouth and nose swab that doesn't go as far up the nasal cavity.
"Overcoming that barrier of it being traumatizing for the child is barrier number one in our minds," said Farion.
"We hope that many more people will then get tested when they need to get tested."
Farion said the program expansion will ultimately depend on the amount of COVID in the community as children return to class. He hopes the processing time for tests remains tight and the lab can avoid backlogs.