Niagara school boards to start targeted COVID-19 testing

Niagara’s school boards are preparing for student testing for COVID-19.

The Ontario government is calling for all school boards to offer the procedure.

The direction, which was laid out in a memo from Education Minister Stephen Lecce on Tuesday, said schools are expected to offer targeted testing in at least five per cent of their elementary and secondary schools, reaching two per cent of their student populations weekly.

District School Board of Niagara said asymptomatic testing would provide an additional effective layer to its prevention protocols.

“Together with Niagara Region Public Health, we are currently developing the voluntary testing process for this Ministry of Education initiative,” said communications officer Carolyn LoConte. “Once this program has been finalized, we will be sharing information, including the parental consent process, with families well before any school community testing begins.”

Testing 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,” the province’s memo said.

Niagara Catholic District School Board said it was advised about the ministry’s new requirement on Tuesday.

“Our board COVID leads received additional information this morning and are currently working on a testing schedule to present to the ministry, and Niagara Region Public Health, following the ministry’s instructions,” education director Camillo Cipriano said Wednesday.

The memo identified steps boards must follow to set up the testing initiative, including working with the local public health unit to develop a plan.

Niagara’s acting medical officer of health, Dr. Mustafa Hirji, said Wednesday his department was not consulted on the ministry decision.

“We are still trying to determine what this means for us, and what role we may play,” said Hirji.

Hirji has not supported random, asymptotic testing because it does not yield good results and can miss many cases. A person without symptoms could carry the virus, and if tested before enough of the virus has built up in their bodies will test negative.

Hirji said it would be more useful to conduct asymptomatic testing in a school once a case has been confirmed.

— With files from Grant LaFleche

Sean Vanderklis is a Niagara-based reporter for the Niagara Falls Review. His reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative. Reach him via email: [email protected]