By Sue Tiffin
Students, their families and staff of six Trillium Lakelands District School Board schools in Haliburton County were invited to take part in targeted testing on March 6, with 69 people ultimately being tested.
The targeted testing of staff and students in public schools was expanded throughout the province by the Ministry of Education on Feb. 1 to “offer an additional layer of protection and help keep schools and child care centres safe,” according to the provincial government by “identifying cases that might otherwise have gone undetected; reducing transmission of COVID-19 from community into schools and within schools; and, reducing barriers and making it easier to get a test in your community.”
“Asymptomatic testing is an important layer of protection that helps to track and prevent the spread of COVID-19,” reads a March 3 TLDSB media release. “Increased testing may also help to reduce stress and anxiety related to the virus by identifying cases early and avoiding outbreaks.”
The school board had partnered with LifeLabs to provide the voluntary asymptomatic testing. A message went home to TLDSB families about the testing on March 2 and 3 and the tests took place for asymptomatic individuals – those not experiencing any COVID-19 symptoms – from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Haliburton Highlands Secondary School. Participants could register in advance or drop in that Saturday.
“We went just because we could,” said Trish Sweeting-Hogg, a Minden mom. “I would hate to be an asymptomatic positive case, or my child, and potentially spreading it to someone who can’t fight it off.”
Sweeting-Hogg said the test was non-invasive – a front nasal swab rather than one that reaches further back in the hose, that she experienced no discomfort, and that the testing process took very little time. She said it was well-organized, with clearly marked entrances and exists, plenty of hand sanitizer and well-spread out tables.
“The test process is very simple and safe and the collection site will be staffed by professionals who will be following a multitude of safety parameters,” reads an e-mail to families from Chris Boulay, HHSS principal. “LifeLabs uses a swab similar to a Q-tip that is inserted into the front part of the nostril and rotated for 15 seconds (per nostril). After the sample is collected, the test results will then be available within 24-48 hours on LifeLabs WorkClear Thrive application.”
A communications officer for TLDSB said that due to the school reorganization happening on March 15, they could not tell the Minden Times, when asked by the paper on March 10 and then March 11, how many staff and students attend TLDSB schools, however, based on counts at each school the Times estimates that the TLDSB population in Haliburton County is greater than 1600 people, which includes staff and students. When asked how many people had participated in the testing day, the TLDSB communications department directed the Times to LifeLabs, with a communications rep from that team responding with results showing 69 tests were conducted.
A similar testing day inviting seven schools in the Kawartha, Pine Ridge district school board saw 205 participants, with four positive tests being reported, and five schools in the Simcoe County district school board having 168 participants with zero positive tests being reported.
“I’m not sure if people think it was all going to be the big, long swab so didn’t go, or if it was timing and travel for some people,” said Sweeting-Hogg of the turnout.
For Sweeting-Hogg and her family, it was an opportunity they wouldn’t miss.
“I will always take the opportunity to get tested in case I happen to be that asymptomatic positive,” she said.
The family received negative results e-mailed to them within 24 hours.
In Fall 2020, more than 9,000 students, their families and school staff were tested in over 60 schools in Toronto, Peel, York and Ottawa, with about two per cent of tests showing a positive result for COVID-19, the majority of those cases coming from household cases according to the provincial government. The government has said up to 50,000 tests per week could be administered through targeted COVID-19 testing in schools and child care settings.
The school board said plans are to have testing taking place every Saturday for the next three weeks in various locations across the board, with the school communicating directly with parents and guardians when asymptomatic testing is available for their school community.
Two cases of COVID-19 connected to HHSS were reported by the high school principal on March 14. Those tests were not necessarily completed as part of the testing day and do not show up in public results from that day.
Further information about asymptomatic targeted testing in schools is available at https://www.ontario.ca/page/covid-19-asymptomatic-targeted-testing-schools.
Further information about COVID-19 cases in schools and child care centres is available at https://www.ontario.ca/page/covid-19-cases-schools-and-child-care-centres.