Sask. school division providing free, in-demand rapid tests for unvaccinated staff

·4 min read
Saskatchewan's French-language school division is distributing rapid tests it has purchased to unvaccinated staff in its schools. (David Hutton/CBC News - image credit)
Saskatchewan's French-language school division is distributing rapid tests it has purchased to unvaccinated staff in its schools. (David Hutton/CBC News - image credit)

Conseil des écoles fransaskoises (CEF), Saskatchewan's French-language school division, has purchased rapid COVID-19 tests that unvaccinated staff in its schools can use for free for the next two months.

As of October 4, unvaccinated staff in CEF schools must produce two negative test results per week, according to a letter sent to staff.

CEF says negative rapid test results satisfy the school division's requirements for unvaccinated staff in combination with compliance to the daily mandatory submission of the school division's COVID-19 symptom self-checker form.

Rapid tests are being made available to vaccinated staff when needed, as well.

CEF joins other settings that have similar policies.

The University of Saskatchewan allows unvaccinated campus members to participate in on-campus activities by providing two negative rapid test results per week, in addition to completing a daily symptom record.

In an email to CBC, the ministry of health said that rapid antigen tests provided through the Saskatchewan Health Authority's Test to Protect Program should not be used for testing unvaccinated staff for proof of negative test results. The program is intended for students age 11 years and under who are not eligible for vaccination and their family members.

However, school divisions have procured their own rapid tests for staff as well.

'Less than ideal'

Nazeem Muhajarine, a professor of community health and epidemiology at the university, said a rapid test is not a diagnostic test and can produce false negatives — but added "it's better than not doing tests."

However, Muhajarine said it is "less than ideal" because we are aiming to have 85 to 90 per cent of the people in the province fully vaccinated to have some collective immunity.

"If some people are choosing not to get vaccinated, but use negative COVID test results — and then have rapid tests as a workaround — I think we are not going to get to that 85 to 90 per cent," he said.

The Saskatchewan Health Authority said last week that rapid tests being sent to elementary schools are a screening tool for asymptomatic people — not a replacement for PCR tests.

Rapid tests aren't accepted as valid proof of negative COVID-19 results in places where the province's proof-of-vaccination policy applies. School divisions were encouraged to introduce their own policies.

Last month, Premier Scott Moe said the province won't pay for people to get tested if they want to show proof of a negative test, and that they must get tests from private providers.

LM Otero/Associated Press
LM Otero/Associated Press

Rapid tests in high demand

There has been a limited supply of rapid tests distributed to the province's schools, and parents have said there aren't enough to meet demand.

Last week, the health ministry told CBC News that schools are getting enough tests for 15 per cent of students under the age of 12.

Ronald Ajavon, CEF's director of education, told Radio-Canada the school division has so far received about 300 test kits for families from the provincial government.

Ajavon said the school division is purchasing rapid tests on top of what it is receiving from the province.

He said it has also purchased some rapid tests for staff and others have been ordered, but test kits intended for students will go to students.

All parents who have requested a kit will receive one, Ajavon said.

"The idea is to make sure that we have tests that can cover our entire student population," he said. "This is what we would have liked to do, but some parents have already asked. And we give them as we go."

He said that other test kit deliveries are expected in the coming weeks.

Parent wants harder push for rapid tests

Rachel Engler-Springer, who has two children enrolled in CEF schools in Saskatoon, said it's her understanding that there are not enough tests in any of the elementary schools right now.

She said the Francophone school board, along with all the other school boards in the province, should be "pushing really hard" on the provincial government to ensure that there are enough rapid tests available in schools.

"I think school boards really have a role to play in saying, 'You know, we should be able to have enough rapid tests for all the children who wish to participate in rapid testing. All the families that wish to participate,'" she said.

She also said parents should send messages, make requests and make calls to government.

"Given that children under the age of 12 cannot be vaccinated, the best way they can participate in that protection of our community as a whole is by participating in rapid testing — so that we can dramatically reduce the number of children who are potentially putting other children who are also unvaccinated at risk," she said.

The province is supposed to receive 2.6 million rapid tests from the federal government by the middle of this month.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting