Asymptomatic testing starts for Durham school communities

·4 min read

The first COVID-19 asymptomatic testing site for students, staff, and their families was held this past weekend with a turnout of more than 100 people.

In an update to the Durham District School Board (DDSB) Standing Committee Monday night, Director of Education Norah Marsh says as part of the province’s plan for more asymptomatic testing in schools, the board is working with the Ministry of Education, Durham Region Health Department, and the Durham Catholic District School Board (DCDSB) for the testing within Durham Region.

Marsh notes communities will become aware of testing site locations, dates and times through direct communication from their local school.

Acting Associate Director Jim Markovski attended the site, noting the vendor assigned by the ministry is LifeLabs.

“They did an excellent job. It was very orderly,” he says.

Markovski says there will be three sites continuing throughout March and the board will be re-evaluating a monthly schedule moving forward.

He adds the location selection is based on health data collected by Durham Region Health Department, and the ministry provides further direction.

Two of the three sites will be in areas within the region that have a high number of COVID-19 cases, while the third site will be a rotating site to ensure access is being provided to various municipalities within the region.

The province also announced changes last week to the health and safety protocols in terms of screening for students and staff. Now, students with just one or more symptoms must self-isolate, as opposed to before when it was required to have two or more symptoms.

The board is also looking at compulsory eyewear for staff within schools, compulsory screening of secondary school students prior to the start of their day, and continued COVID-19 screening for students in kindergarten to Grade 12.

Marsh notes this change in screening protocols is having a significant impact in terms of school attendance.

“From a staffing perspective, we know that there’s been a shortage of educators in Ontario throughout the year and the DDSB has worked diligently in terms of ensuring that classes are safely supervised and schools are operating under safe conditions with staff there,” she says.

The board implemented a tiered approach in September 2020 for when there aren’t sufficient occasional teachers or EAs, the board is looking to do a central reallocation of staff from the education centre.

With the new screening criteria now reduced to having one or more symptoms, Marsh notes the board is actively working to update its emergency lists for occasional teachers and EAs. However, it is also more likely during this period that a school will need to close due to a lack of available staff to ensure the safe supervision of students.

“Of course this would be a last resort and we have a number of tiers in advance of having to get to that decision, but with this new management of screening, understanding it’s a health and safety protocol and the importance of that, we are concerned in terms of the staffing shortages.”

She adds this is a problem across Ontario, noting Durham has been “well positioned” throughout.

“We haven’t yet had to close down for this reason, but we want to flag this as with this shift it could be more likely.”

DDSB currently has 24 active cases of COVID-19 in its schools.

In Oshawa, there are two cases at Vincent Massey PS, two cases at Walter E. Harris PS, one case at Elsie MacGill PS, and one case at Northern Dancer PS, as of March 2.

There are also cases at five schools in Whitby, including Donald A Wilson SS, Sir William Stephenson PS, West Lynde PS, and Whitby Shores.

In Ajax, there are COVID-19 cases at Alexander Graham Bell PS, Bolton C Falby PS, and Cadarackque PS, as well as at Pickering High School, Carruthers Creek PS, and Gandatsetiagon PS in Pickering.

There are also 18 positive cases of COVID-19 within DCDSB schools.

In Oshawa, there is one case at Monsignor Paul Dwyer Catholic High School and two cases at St. Kateri Tekekwitha CS.

There are also cases at St. Bernadette Catholic School in Ajax, St. John the Evangelist CS, St. Mark the Evangelist CS, and St. Matthew the Evangelist CS in Whitby, and St. Isaac Jogues Catholic School and St. Mary Catholic Secondary School in Pickering.

Courtney Bachar, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Oshawa Express