Two Hamilton schools — one each in the public and Catholic boards — will offer rapid COVID-19 testing for asymptomatic students and staff on Saturday.
Hamilton public health says Bishop Ryan Catholic Secondary School in Hannon and Orchard Park Secondary School in Stoney Creek will be sites for voluntary targeted asymptomatic testing on Feb. 13 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. for staff and students at those schools.
Asymptomatic students and staff from neighbouring Eastdale Elementary School and Winona Elementary School can also register for a rapid test at Orchard Park, public health says.
“These areas were identified as neighbourhoods where the uptake of testing is low, COVID-19 rates are higher and there has been a history of school outbreak,” a Feb. 12 media release reads.
Orchard Park has had a total of seven cases of the virus since September, and no outbreaks. An outbreak was reported in December at Eastdale. Bishop Ryan has reported a total of 13 cases among its approximately 1,400 in-person learners. No outbreaks have been reported at the school.
Schools in Hamilton reopened for in-person learning on Monday with enhanced health and safety measures in place after weeks of remote learning.
“We as a community recognize the importance of the return to in-person learning for our students in Hamilton,” Dr. Elizabeth Richardson, Hamilton’s medical officer of health, said in the release. “Along with other vital health and safety measures, such as daily screening, masking and increased hand hygiene, targeted asymptomatic testing at our schools is an added tool we may use where relevant for our community.”
Testing is voluntary, and does not apply to student or staff recently advised by public health to self-isolate or get a COVID test at an assessment centre. Students enrolled in full-time online learning are not eligible for asymptomatic testing.
Public health says rapid tests tend to cause less discomfort and yield results quickly.
“It’s a less invasive test and can be considered more appealing for children and youth,” spokesperson James Berry said in an email to The Spectator.
Students and staff will be able to access the results within “a couple of hours” using the QR code assigned to them upon registration, public health says. Positive results will be deferred to public health for followup.
Public health says the Ministry of Education “has obtained mobile testing vendors,” and testing will take place in school cafeterias.
Eight appointments are available per half-hour for pre-registration, and “the vendor can accommodate walk-ups of eligible students and staff.”
Public health “considered enrolment size” and “past uptake in other communities to anticipate volumes,” Berry said. The maximum testing capacity at each site is unclear.
Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board chair Dawn Danko said asymptomatic testing is “valuable” to school communities both to prevent transmission and to collect data.
“If we can do testing before people come back into our schools after a weekend and get that test result immediately, that can prevent possible cases that would otherwise go undetected from coming into the schools,” she said. “It would be very challenging to this in all schools every weekend, so that’s not the primary goal. I think the primary goal is to understand where we have cases in our community.”
Chair Pat Daly said the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board expresses its “deep appreciation” to public health and the Ministry of Education for “ensuring that all possible safeguards are in place.”
“This testing initiative, along with other recent health and safety measures, are welcome additions and provide another layer of protection as our schools reopen for in-person learning,” he said in the release.
Public health says it will “continue to work collaboratively” with school boards and the province, and “will consider how these types of tests may be useful in the future” after the weekend.
Kate McCullough, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator