The province is waiting on new rapid test kits to be approved by Health Canada before rolling them out at more schools, the education minister said Wednesday (Oct. 6).
Minister Jennifer Whiteside said that the province is already utilizing at-home gargle test kits in Vancouver Coastal Health and Fraser Health.
“I understood Dr. Henry to say at the end of last week that she is certainly watching Health Canada very closely with respect to the the approval for other kinds of rapid test kits that may be become available soon,” Whiteside said.
The federal government is distributing a variety of rapid tests to provinces. According to federal data, a total of 2.8 million rapid tests have been sent to B.C. Of those, 686,445, or 25 per cent have been distributed to their final point-of-care setting and just 125,774, or 4.5 per cent of the total number sent to B.C., have been reported to Health Canada as used. Black Press Media has asked the provincial government for the current status of these tests.
Other provinces have utilized rapid tests in schools.
Ontario announced Tuesday that it would make rapid testing available to students in high-transmission areas through their local health units. According to the province, it would “support access to voluntary, rapid asymptomatic screening for unvaccinated children and students.”
Ontario also announced a PCR-based self-collection pilot for vaccinated high school students identified as high-risk close contacts of a confirmed COVID case in September. The rapid screening program is for unvaccinated students.
Alberta has also utilized rapid testing for asymptomatic staff and students.
The B.C. Teachers’ Federation has repeatedly called for rapid testing in schools. In February, union tweeted that there needs to be “widespread rapid testing when a COVID19 variant shows up in schools.”
#BCed needs widespread rapid testing when a COVID19 variant shows up in schools. This is not the time to be conservative with testing. Everyone connected to a class with a COVID19 variant exposure should receive a rapid test. #bcpoli
— BCTF (@bctf) February 22, 2021
In August, BCTF president Teri Mooring told Black Press Media that she wants a testing strategy put in place that includes asymptomatic testing and the use of rapid antigen tests so schools can get a better picture of the presence of COVID-19 in school communities.
Whiteside said that any decision to increase rapid testing in school settings would have to come from the provincial health officer.
“We are guided by the by the advice and guidance of our public health officials with respect to appropriate measures that need to be in place for all sectors, as well as schools,” she said.
“Dr. Henry is certainly reviewing the use of all of the different kinds of tests that that are potentially available and we’ll make decisions as the as she sees fit as in regard to her assessment of the evidence of the utility and the efficacy of those tests.”
Although Pfizer said Thursday that it plans to ask Health Canada to authorize its COVID-19 vaccine for children as young as five in mid-October, currently there are no immunizations available for anyone under the age of 12.