Here's what we know about COVID-19 testing in Windsor-Essex schools

School boards in Windsor-Essex are preparing for the rollout of COVID-19 testing in schools.

Testing will be carried out at several schools weekly

Students in Windsor-Essex returned to the classroom earlier this month after in-person learning was cancelled for over a month. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images)

School boards in Windsor-Essex are preparing for the rollout of COVID-19 testing within schools.

In hopes of catching cases of the virus, the province is asking larger school boards to offer targeted COVID-19 testing in at least five per cent of their elementary and secondary schools, reaching two per cent of their student populations weekly.

The plan was communicated in a memo to school boards last week.

The public school board says the plan is in the early stages and more information will be coming, but here's what we know so far.

Who can get tested

In Windsor-Essex, the English Catholic school board is planning on testing two schools per week, while three will be tested in the English public board.

The schools will be selected based on priority in terms of COVID-19 transmission.

"We're going to be working with the health unit to find out where the hotspots are within Windsor and Essex County, so we're able to get the hotspots," Sharon Pyke, superintendent of education with the Greater Essex County District School Board, said on Windsor Morning on Monday.

The testing will be available to students and staff doing in-person learning at the selected schools.

"It's voluntary and consent will be required as well," Melissa Farrand, superintendent of education with the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board, told Windsor Morning.

When does the testing start

The province's memo says move to start asymptomatic testing is effective as of Monday, except in parts of the Greater Toronto Area where there was an earlier rollout, but it's not clear exactly when testing will begin locally.

Pyke said the plan is in the initial stages. The Catholic board also does not have a firm date for the rollout.

What kind of tests are being offered?

The public school board will be working with a third-party vendor who will do the testing. Pyke said it's not known what type of test will be offered yet.

The memo from the province said the testing offered will consist of a combination of rapid antigen as well as PCR testing "and will look to use less invasive methods of testing where possible."

What about smaller school boards?

School boards with fewer than 10 schools will not be subject to the five per cent target.

The memo said the ministry will work with those boards to develop an "appropriate" testing plan for their school communities.

How many cases have occurred in schools lately?

This month, two COVID-19 cases have been reported within the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board, and four have been diagnosed within the public school system.

In-classroom learning resumed on Feb. 8 with some additional protocols in place after a hiatus that began the week before the holiday break. 

Throughout the pandemic, Ferrand said, the emphasis has been on layering on protections from the virus, such as wearing personal protective equipment and screening for symptoms.

"This asymptomatic testing is just another layer of protection. So it's being offered — I would encourage those who are interested to definitely get tested, although it's voluntary," she said.

With files from CBC Toronto