Ontario to allow normal high school semesters; 11 million rapid tests on COVID-19 to be offered to elementary and secondary students for holidays

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Ontario’s two million elementary and high school students will receive quick tests on COVID-19 to take home over the Christmas holidays, the province says.

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The government bought 11 million of the quick tests, provincial health officials said at a technical briefing on Thursday.

The plan is for students to take a quick test a few times a week from Dec. 23 until they return to school after the break, officials said.

It is part of an expanded testing program to strengthen security as more people come in this winter and respond if there is a rapid increase in COVID-19 cases, officials said.

Officials also confirmed that the Ontario government will allow people with symptoms of COVID-19 to be tested for the disease in pharmacies across the province.

In addition, mobile test clinics for asymptomatic people will be set up during the holidays in places of high delivery of COVID-19 in places like shopping malls and holiday markets.

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The rapid testing for students will add another “layer of protection” and make holiday gatherings safer, officials said.

Students will be offered a package of five tests, which will be distributed in schools in December. Testing is voluntary.

The quick tests give results in about 15 minutes.

If a student is positive, they should isolate and receive a confirmatory PCR test, which is processed in a laboratory.

While Ontario received some quick tests from the federal government, it bought extra tests for the school holiday program.

Earlier this fall, Ontario Chief Medical Officer Dr. Kieran Moore rejected calls from some scientists, education unions and parents to make rapid tests widely available for students, especially those in elementary schools who are not yet eligible for vaccinations.

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Moore said extensive rapid testing would be expensive, burdensome for parents and would result in too many false positive tests in places where COVID-19 rate is low. Ontario’s Scientific Advisory Board on COVID-19, in a report this fall, also recommended against widespread rapid testing in schools.

Instead, rapid tests were available at the discretion of local public health units to use targeted methods as to help contain school outbreaks.

When asked what prompted the change in strategy, Moore said Thursday that it is now a prudent approach to offer all students quick tests because the number of COVID-19 cases is expected to increase as people go indoors during winter and social gatherings take place during winter. the holidays.

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The rapid tests will help ensure that cases of COVID-19 among students will be detected before they return to school after the holidays, he said.

When education minister Stephen Lecce was asked at a media conference on Thursday whether speed tests will continue to be widely available for students back in class in January, he did not respond directly but emphasized the other tests the province has made available.

For example, schools have portable PCR tests available for students who are developing symptoms at school or who have been identified as high-risk contact by someone with the disease. Ontario is the only place in the country with that program, he said.

In other school news, officials said high schools in the province will be allowed to return to normal semester programming in February. That could be done sooner if local public health units agree, officials said.

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Most high schools in the province have adopted a square model, with four shortened semesters during the year rather than the usual two semesters.
The four-year model has been criticized by many students and parents, who say the condensed semesters are difficult.

The association representing Ontario’s English public school boards urged the government to allow high schools to return to normal schedules. Secondary students have had their learning interrupted by pandemic schedules and changes to online learning at home since March 2020.

Officials at the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board, the city’s largest, said they could quickly switch to normal two-semester programming. The board is among a few in the province that have adopted a “modified semester” schedule this year, in part to allow for a faster change to a more normal schedule.

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Students on the board do two courses a day for one week, then an additional two courses a day for the following week. Each course is two-and-a-half hours.

Because students are already taking four courses, it would be easier to make the switch to take all four courses on the same day.

Boards that have adopted the quarterly system this year, including the Ottawa Catholic School Board, cannot return to normal semesters until February, at the end of the first two quarters.

The province will also consolidate some pandemic protocols in schools.

Elementary students will be restricted from eating lunch and having other breaks with their class while indoors when “distance cannot be maintained.”

From January, or earlier in the direction of local public health units, school assemblies in primary schools must be virtual.

jmiller@postmedia.com

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