Ontario students to take home rapid antigen COVID-19 tests in time for winter holidays

The province also confirmed symptomatic individuals can get a COVID test at pharmacies

Every school student in the province will be able to take home five rapid antigen COVID-19 screening tests in time for the holiday season.

The Ontario government announced on Thursday that 11 million tests will be handed out by schools. The packages will contain instructions that students use one every three or four days over the winter break, beginning on Dec. 23.

Anyone who tests positive will be required to isolate and take a lab-based PCR COVID-19 test.

The screening tests are not mandatory, and children who don’t participate will not be denied access to school when classes resume in the New Year.

As well, the government confirmed symptomatic individuals will be able to get a COVID-19 test at participating pharmacies in Ontario.

Officials have said more than 1,300 pharmacies have expressed an interest in participating in the program, and that the government’s top public health officials have endorsed the plan.

According to the province, participating pharmacies must implement strict infection and prevention control measures such as:

  • Mandatory appointments, with no walk-ins, for the in-store PCR testing option.
  • Making dedicated space for testing. But when pressed on whether that means a private room or a simply a space divided by plexi-glass barriers, for example, officials couldn’t provide a clear answer. They said it would depend on the lay-out of a specific pharmacy location.
  • Routine cleaning and disinfecting.
  • Physical distancing and “optimizing” ventilation.
  • “Stringent” PPE requirements.
  • People showing symptoms or who have had a recent exposure to the virus must wear a surgical/medical mask.

Depending on the location of the pharmacy, three separate options could be offered:

  • In-store PCR testing by appointment-only.
  • Self-collection lab-based kits with no appointment necessary.
  • In-store rapid molecular testing by appointment only, with results processed on site within 30 minutes. Officials said this option will initially be focused on northern Ontario.

As well, public squares, malls and holiday markets will have COVID-19 testing sites available for asymptomatic individuals. The province said as many 43 testing teams will be established, with locations to be announced shortly.