Three Hamilton schools to offer asymptomatic testing this week

·4 min read

Three Hamilton schools are offering rapid COVID-19 testing this week.

Testing will be offered to asymptomatic students and staff on a voluntary basis as part of a provincial mandate that boards offer tests in five per cent of their schools — and at least two per cent of their students — each week.

The Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board is set to offer asymptomatic testing at Saltfleet District High School in Stoney Creek on Friday from 10:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Testing will be open to asymptomatic students and staff — including those working in before- and after-school care programs — at Saltfleet, as well as elementary schools in the community.

Eligible elementary schools include Billy Green, Janet Lee, Mount Albion, Gatestone, Tapleytown, Bellmoore and Shannen Koostachin.

At the Catholic board, testing will be offered at two schools between Thursday and Saturday.

St. Ann Catholic Elementary School in central Hamilton — one of three Catholic elementary schools currently in outbreak — offered testing on Thursday evening. It is unclear which types of tests were used.

Both polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and rapid testing was offered at St. Teresa of Avila Catholic Elementary School on Feb. 20 after the school closed amid an outbreak.

Asymptomatic testing will also be offered Friday evening at St. John Henry Newman Catholic Secondary School for students and staff at that school.

On Saturday, testing at St. John Henry Newman will be available for students and staff at the feeder schools — Immaculate Heart of Mary, Our Lady of Peace, St. Agnes, St. Clare of Assisi, St. David, St. Francis Xavier, St. Gabriel and St. Martin of Tours.

Fewer than 100 students and staff participated in Feb. 13 pilot clinics at Orchard Park Secondary School in Stoney Creek and Bishop Ryan Catholic Secondary School in Hannon during a snowy long weekend. Among the 86 participants — 65 students and 21 staff — no positive cases of the virus were detected.

The HWDSB is hoping for increased uptake this time around. Approximately 3,600 in-person learners at schools are eligible for asymptomatic testing at the Saltfleet “hub” clinic, which has the capacity for 130 tests.

“We started to think about how do we increase the voluntary participation ... without disrupting the teaching, learning that’s happening,” said education director Manny Figueiredo.

He said the board has “done some reflecting” since the first clinic and made the decision to offer testing on a weekday immediately after high school students finish in-person sessions, and into the evening for elementary students.

“If they’re already in the building ... we’re going to likely get more voluntary participation because they’re already present,” Figueiredo said.

The board has also created a schedule to let parents know about asymptomatic testing well in advance. With new testing targets set out by the province, the public board is expected to offer testing to about five schools per week.

The next dates for testing are March 5 at Orchard Park Secondary School in Stoney Creek, the location of one of the pilot clinics, and March 12 at Bernie Custis Secondary School in central Hamilton.

Figueiredo said though there is a schedule in place, boards need to be ready to pivot if public health directs the board to change locations in the case of an outbreak.

“We can’t give you a will-use it-always-in-these-circumstances-type answer around those outbreaks, but we’ll look at each case as it comes to make a determination as to what we would recommend,” Hamilton’s medical officer of health Dr. Elizabeth Richardson said a Feb. 23 media briefing.

In a 2020 asymptomatic testing pilot at 18 Toronto schools, 31 per cent of students and 54 per cent of staff volunteered to get tested, Dr. Vinita Dubey, associate medical officer of health for Toronto Public Health, said in an email to The Spectator.

Jen Vickers-Manzin, director of Hamilton public health’s healthy families division, said the province has indicated uptake for asymptomatic testing in schools is typically around 20 per cent — a number the city was “planning for” during its first clinics.

“We’ll continue to engage with our school board partners and really understand our baseline a little bit more, as well as any barriers to participating,” she said. “The planning and the direction of this rapid testing, including rapid antigen testing, is still very much a moving target.”

Kate McCullough, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator