Take-home COVID-19 test kits for kids roll out in OttawaHealth officials say the kits represent one way to increase COVID-19 testing among children and youth by making the process more comfortable and convenient.
Author of the article: Jacquie Miller
Publishing date: Jul 07, 2021 • 2 hours ago • 4 minute read • Join the conversation
Dr. Ken Farion with the take-home COVID-19 test kit that is being used for children and teens in Ottawa. PHOTO BY JEAN LEVAC /Postmedia
Ottawa health officials have introduced COVID-19 tests that children or their parents can administer at home as one more element in the quest to make schools and camps safer.
The take-home tests were tried out by 381 students and staff in a pilot project conducted this spring at Ottawa schools. Next week the kits will be available at some summer camps, and the plan is to use them at schools next fall.
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The tests are easy to do — CHEO produced a Youtube video featuring a six-year-old giving himself one — and don’t use the deep-nasal swab that some people find uncomfortable.
Here’s how they work: The child swabs the inside of both cheeks and the front of each nostril, then sticks the swab into a capsule, which is sealed in a plastic bag.
The take-home COVID-19 test has a swab and a capsule. PHOTO BY JEAN LEVAC/Postmedia
They are not rapid tests. Each test still must be processed at a laboratory. During the pilot, students were given test kits at school and returned the capsules the next morning. A courier or school nurse brought them to the lab.
Ottawa health officials say the take-home kits represent one way to increase COVID-19 testing among children and youth by making the process more comfortable and convenient.
“It just adds tools to our toolkit to be able to use testing in as effective a manner as possible as we fight the pandemic,” said Dr. Ken Farion, a CHEO doctor who is the medical and operational lead for the Ottawa COVID-19 Testing Taskforce.
And, if some kids test themselves at home, it frees up health-care staff.
Testing for COVID-19 will be key to the safe and continuous operation of schools this fall.
The take-home testing could be used in a variety of ways, Farion said.
For example, tests could be employed in pockets of Ottawa where families face barriers to going to assessment centres for testing or where COVID-19 rates are higher, or at schools that have had outbreaks.
Children who develop symptoms at school could be given take-home test kits when their parents pick them up, which could be done at school or later at home. Kits could be given to asymptomatic children who are identified as close contacts to make it easier for them to get tested as recommended.
Next week, test kits will be distributed to 17 day camps in neighbourhoods where there are higher rates of COVID-19 and families may find it difficult to get to testing centres.
Campers and staff will have the option of doing the test at camp if they develop symptoms during the day, Farion said.
More camps will be added in subsequent weeks.
“Overall, our objectives are to help identify cases of COVID-19 before transmission to others occurs and to help get kids back to camp with the least amount of time away waiting for testing.”
The pilot test this spring was among special-education students who remained at in-person classes while most Ontario students shifted to online learning at home.
The six students attending classes at St. Patrick’s High School were enthusiastic about the take-home kits, principal Carrie-Lynn Bowie said.
Teachers handed them out at school and students brought the completed tests back the next day.
“The most important part of doing this thing is that we know that testing is something that we can do to help our students and their families to be safe,” Bowie said. “It’s preventative, it’s proactive, it gives our students the chance to participate in keeping the wider community safe as well as our school community and their families.”
Bowie said she had no doubt that the program could be expanded to the entire school if required.
“We would make it manageable, whatever we needed to do so we could participate.”
Carrie-Lynn Bowie, principal at St. Patrick’s High School, with the cooler used to store the COVID-19 take-home tests that students brought back to school. Photo by Brigette Gomes, public health nurse for COVID-19 School Support Team
The Ontario government has also been urged by some medical experts, epidemiologists and education unions to adopt widespread rapid testing of school children.
Rapid tests are typically used several times a week in mass screening programs of asymptomatic people in order to identify cases that would otherwise go undetected and to give an indication of the prevalence of COVID-19 in a population.
There are a wide variety of rapid tests used at schools and post-secondary institutions around the world, but their rollout in Canada has been limited.
Ontario’s Ministry of Education introduced a program this past winter for targeted testing of asymptomatic students, which used some rapid tests, but participation was low.
Colin Furness, who is an epidemiologist and a professor in the Faculty of Information at the University of Toronto, said offering widespread, frequent rapid testing to students could help control transmission of the virus and be a key strategy in keeping schools safe.
In England, for instance, secondary students were provided with two rapid tests to be done at home each week.
“We can do this,” Furness said. “We just have to decide to do it.”
A spokesperson for Education Minister Stephen Lecce said the government was “considering a variety of testing approaches” for next fall.