MONTREAL — Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé is asking for more time to roll out rapid COVID-19 testing in the province's elementary schools amid criticism from opposition parties and school administrators.
Dubé said Daniel Paré, the head of the province's COVID-19 vaccination campaign, will take over the program to deploy rapid tests in schools.
"If we look at vaccination, if you look at testing, it always seems to be a mess in the first few days," Dubé told reporters in Quebec City. "What I'm asking people is to just give us a few days and we'll show, with Daniel Paré, that we'll make a success of rapid tests, the same way as we have done with vaccination and testing."
Earlier on Tuesday, Quebec's two largest opposition parties criticized the rollout of the tests.
Referring to Paré as "captain damage control," Québec solidaire health critic Vincent Marissal accused the government of not having a plan.
“This is not serious, if you really want to implement this kind of policy in schools you have to have a plan," he told reporters. "They’ve been speaking about this for months.”
Opposition leader Dominique Anglade said if rapid tests had been deployed earlier, the government could have figured out how to get it right before the number of COVID-19 cases began rising in schools.
"I honestly believe that the government never took this seriously, despite the fact that other jurisdictions were going ahead with (rapid testing)" she told reporters.
But Dubé said the government had to wait for advice from public health officials, who he said had preferred to use the more accurate PCR tests to detect cases of COVID-19.
Dubé said the use of the rapid tests has begun at 50 schools in Montreal.
On Monday, an association representing school administrators in Montreal said that some of the 72 schools that were supposed to be part of the first phase of the rapid test program had not received test kits.
Kathleen Legault, president of L'Association montréalaise des directions d'établissement scolaire, said training videos had been received on Friday but they were aimed at medical professionals, not teachers. She said that while each test takes about 15 minutes, preparation time and verifying parental consent can take another 15 to 20 minutes.
"The teachers absolutely do not have the time to do these tests," Legault said Monday in an interview. "So, we're asking, who will conduct the tests? Because no staff has been added, no money has been added for this and we already have a shortage of staff in our schools."
The Health Department said Tuesday that 1,143 students had active COVID-19 infections on Monday, a rise of 163 from Friday, adding that 124 teachers had active infections, a drop of two. The number of schools with active cases of COVID-19 rose by 70, to 727.
Dr. Jesse Papenburg, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at the Montreal Children's Hospital, said rapid tests in schools could be useful but also complicated.
"I think rapid testing is the one thing that could be useful in terms of quicker detection of outbreak situations, or allowing classrooms to remain open, if you have that reassuring negative rapid test in contacts of cases," he said in an interview Monday. "But, logistically speaking, it's not simple to implement rapid testing in schools."
The tests need to be performed and interpreted properly, he said, adding that any positive result needs to be confirmed with a PCR test.
Earlier on Tuesday, Quebec reported 633 new cases of COVID-19 and seven more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus. The Health Department said hospitalizations rose by three from the day before, to 230, and 78 people were in intensive care, a rise of three.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 14, 2021.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press