COVID testing at 3 Sudbury schools different from random school testing, health unit says

Ontario's Ministry of Education announced expanded voluntary testing for asymptomatic cases in schools where students have returned to in-person learning. However, that is different from a pilot project underway in Sudbury, where voluntary tests are available for students and staff at three Catholic schools. All three had recent outbreaks.

"It sounds the same, but the goal is different; this is really for case finding"

Three Catholic schools in Greater Sudbury are part of a pilot project offering voluntary COVID-19 tests for students or staff. All three had recent outbreaks and the testing is to find further positive cases. (Robert Short/CBC)

Ontario's Ministry of Education plans to expand voluntary testing for asymptomatic COVID-19 cases in schools where in-person learning has resumed.

Public Health Sudbury and Districts says it hasn't been given any directives for local schools yet. However, there is a pilot project that is continuing for testing at three Catholic schools, where there are outbreaks.

Students or staff at the three affected schools — Marymount Academy, St Charles College and Pius XII —  can voluntarily get COVID-19 tests.

"So the goal here is to identify any undetected COVID infections among schools that are already in outbreak," says Joelle Martel, a health promoter with the health unit in Sudbury.

She says the testing currently underway locally is different from the expanded random testing the province announced this week for schools.

"So this testing can make it easier to track and prevent the spread in the school, help identify any additional cases and inform us with our next direction and then manage the outbreaks more effectively," Martel said.

"It's not really the same thing because that is more like random testing in schools, right. Where this is to find extra cases  because we already know there are cases in these schools."

"It sounds the same, but the goal is different, so this [local testing] is really for case finding," Martel said.

The tests are not available for students who have chosen to learn virtually this school year. 

Public Health Sudbury and Districts is co-ordinating the testing clinics at the schools, while a private company was hired by the ministry to conduct the nasal swab tests.

Any positive cases that turn up from the school testing — even asymptomatic ones — are included in the health unit's regular COVID case numbers listed on its website..

Martel could not provide stats on how many voluntary tests have been completed at the three schools.

As for the province's expansion of voluntary testing for asymptomatic COVID-19 cases in schools, Martel says Public Health Sudbury and Districts will be ready for whatever directive comes down.. 

"We work closely with the school boards and we're ready to put those into place whenever the time comes."

Since last week, COVID-19 tests have been going on at three local schools in Sudbury where they had outbreaks. Now the province has announced more testing for schools in the province. We heard more about the voluntary testing project at the Sudbury schools from Joelle Martel of Public Health Sudbury and Districts. 6:37

With files from Angela Gemmill


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