Coronavirus: Alberta government updating COVID-19 school rapid testing program

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The Government of Alberta is ramping up its in-school rapid screening test program, expanding to 300 schools in Calgary, Edmonton, Lethbridge and Grande Prairie.

Forty-four thousand rapid test kits will be distributed to schools and testing will be offered to 220,000 students and staff.

Junior and senior high schools will be prioritized based on an array of factors, including prevalence of COVID-19 in the school and community.

Other communities will also be served through rapid response teams if the need exists.

“I am pleased to significantly expand on our successful rapid testing pilot in schools to more students and staff in more communities,” said Education Minister Adriana LaGrange on Saturday. “Rapid test screening is one more tool to limit the spread of the virus in schools and ensure students can keep learning safely from the classroom.”

Rapid screening tests may be able to detect the virus in people who don’t have symptoms, allowing for more immediate isolation.

Results are typically available within one hour, and positive results still need to be confirmed with a lab-based test conducted at an AHS assessment centre.

Consent will be required to participate.

“Expanding rapid testing to schools is just the latest example of the leading role we’ve taken in testing throughout the pandemic,” adds Tyler Shandro, Health Minister. “It’s another tool to help keep schools opening safely, as part of our commitment to keep Albertans safe while we maintain activities that are important to families and communities.”

NDP Opposition Education Critic Sarah Hoffman calls the announcement too little, too late.

“Adriana LaGrange’s re-entry plan failed in December and she closed schools. I called on her then to bring rapid-test kits to schools before classes returned in January. She did nothing, and sat on a huge stockpile of 1.6 million tests while the virus spread and tens of thousands of students, staff and families were forced into isolation,” Hoffman says.

“I urge Adriana LaGrange to implement the other important recommendations she failed to act on, including reduced class sizes to limit infections and isolations, and an Alberta Learn From Home Fund to support families who are supporting their children in learning from home.”

In total, eight school boards are participating in the expanded rapid testing program, including Edmonton Catholic School District, Edmonton Public Schools, Calgary Board of Education, Calgary Catholic Schools, Grande Prairie & District Catholic Schools, Grande Prairie Public School Division, Holy Spirit Catholic School Division and Lethbridge School Division.

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