Rapid COVID-19 testing not a slam dunk in Lambton schools

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Lambton’s medical officer of health is not jumping at the chance to use rapid antigen tests in local schools.

The provincial government will be giving rapid tests to public health units in COVID-19 hotspots to help slow the spread of the virus in schools.

Right now, Lambton has some of the highest virus transmission rates in the province with statistics showing Lambton now has 70 cases of COVID for every 100,000 people. That’s second only to Chatham-Kent with 103 per 100,000. But the medical officers of health in both communities are hesitant about the new program.

Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Keiran Moore, says the testing will only be for unvaccinated students in schools and licensed child care settings when local medical officers of health thinks there is a need for it.

“We are all in agreement schools should be the first to open and the last to close, this is an extra tool to keep our children in the classroom,” says Moore, adding this will help identify and prevent transmission in schools and licensed child care settings and hopes it will reduce the number of COVID-19 cases.

Moore says routine rapid antigen screening of fully vaccinated students is not currently recommended because the COVID-19 vaccines are effective and false positives could “disrupt learning.”

Hours after the announcement, Lambton’s Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Sudit Ranade, was unsure if the new tool would be used in Lambton where eight students in five schools are currently COVID-19 positive.

“I wish that they had just come out with some clear guidelines, rather than saying, ‘Oh, it’s up to you and if you want it, you go ahead,’ because that leaves us in a really challenging situation. There’s no real guidance about what would constitute enough community spread that we should be using this test,” Ranade told The Independent.

“I think the thinking is, maybe if you use rapid testing really well, you can keep a bunch of schools open even in the face of lots of community spread, and I’m not sure that that’s true.”

And he says while parents may want the tests to be reassured their students are fine, that may not be the result of rapid testing.

“It’s better used in situations with non-symptomatic people. But even in those situations it can lead to either false positives or a situation where you’re falsely reassured about what to do. So these are the challenges that nobody’s really figured out about these tests and you need to know those things in order to use that intervention in the best way.”

Chatham-Kent’s Medical Officer of Health, Dr. David Colby also isn’t ready to jump on the rapid testing bandwagon.

Colby, who has voiced concern about rapid testing before, says he “doesn’t see a routine use for rapid testing.”