Students get two rapid tests, masks; parents will have little info about COVID in the class when school returns Monday


Students heading back to school Monday will get two rapid tests so they can figure out if they have COVID-19 when they are exposed to the virus.

It was one of the items unveiled by Education Minister Stephen Lecce Wednesday, as he announced the plan for back-to-school on Monday.

Students across the province will return to school as Ontario hospitals see more and more people admitted sick with COVID-19 in the Omicron wave. Some parents have voiced concerns about sending children back after two weeks of online learning when the vaccination rates in particularly elementary schools is still low – just 35 per cent in Lambton County.

Lecce told reporters today the province would encourage vaccine clinics in schools during the day with written parent consent.

The province will also provide two rapid antigen tests for students to take home and use should they have symptoms. Lecce says they’ll most likely be in the hands of elementary students first.

The province has already shipped N95 masks for teachers, something Lecce says is a first in the country. However, it is not clear how long that supply will last. There are also cloth masks for students. And the province is shipping another 3,000 HEPA filters for schools across the province – about 50 are headed to schools in Lambton.

The Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Keiran Moore says with Omicron virus spreading widely in the province, there will be illness in the schools. Some experts say up to 30 per cent of staff in any given workplace could be ill through this wave of COVID-19. So, the province is also allowing retirees and student teachers to fill in when teachers get sick. And it’s also given the okay for classes to merge to help solve staffing problems.

But, it’s not clear how much parents will know about illness in their child’s school. There will be no tracking of those with COVID and the only time parents will hear if there are a lot of people ill is either from their own child or if they get a letter from the health unit reminding them about infection control measures. That will only happen if 30 per cent of the staff and students are out of class.

scWhat happens after that letter reminding parents about good COVID-19 hygiene practices goes out, is unclear.

Lecce says he understands how difficult the pandemic has been for families, however he’s committed to keeping students in classrooms.