COVID-19 rapid testing pilot to be deployed at 2 Calgary schools

·3 min read
Students line up to have their hands sanitized at a northwest Calgary school on the first day back in September 2020. (Mike Symington/CBC - image credit)
Students line up to have their hands sanitized at a northwest Calgary school on the first day back in September 2020. (Mike Symington/CBC - image credit)

Two Calgary schools — on in the Calgary Board of Education and one in the Calgary Catholic School District — will be getting rapid COVID-19 testing pilot projects.

Education minister Adriana LaGrange said the pilot will launch at schools experiencing outbreaks as early next week.

"A testing team will be set up at two Calgary schools to screen students and staff who do not have symptoms," she said.
"They will offer testing again the week after and may follow up by a third round of screening."

The province said the specific locations have not yet been selected.

LaGrange made the announcement at the province's daily COVID-19 update. She said rapid testing may offer a close-to-real-time check on the situation.

"By quickly identifying those who may have COVID-19 but do not have symptoms, we are hoping to learn if this type of testing would be an effective tool to manage outbreaks," she said.

The minister said Alberta is among the first provinces to run such a trial on site at schools and offer testing to the entire school population during the school day.

"This will make it easy for students and staff to get tested with little disruption to the school day as possible. We expect to find out if there will be more uptake if tests are done at school and if it will work well," she said.

"We also want to determine if rolling out these screening tests on site is practical in a school environment. That's why we are starting the pilot in only two schools in the same city. We will examine the results of the first three weeks and any challenges that may arise."

The province said a testing team will set up at each participating school. Staff must sign a consent form and students must have a consent form signed by their parents or guardians to get tested.

One Calgary Board of Education school and one Calgary Catholic School District school experiencing outbreaks will participate in the pilot.

"We're looking at trying to make sure it's a fairly typical school with sort of an average size — so probably starting with an elementary junior high type of setting — to make sure there's good availability for the testers to come in and perform the tests on the students," said Andrea Holowka, superintendent of learning services with CCSD.

Holowka said that because it's a pilot the board does anticipate some questions and concerns about how this will roll out in the schools.

"But I think in general it will give parents and staff and students a sense of relief and just knowledge that we're doing everything we can to keep our schools safe," she said.

The CBE said the use of rapid tests is expected to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission in schools.

"This is an important and proactive step that should further help to support the health of our students, staff, and school communities," said Marilyn Dennise, CBE board chair.

One goal for this pilot is to help officials understand just how widespread asymptomatic COVID-19 cases are in the community.

The Alberta Teacher's Association said it's pleased the government has heard the consistent call from teachers and is now taking action to introduce rapid COVID testing in Alberta's schools.

"Schools are the backbone of our communities, and providing testing in schools is essential to keep all Albertans safe and to help public health authorities and schools respond to future outbreaks involving students, staff and their families," said president Jason Schilling.