B.C. schools rapid test rollout now underway

Starting Tuesday, B.C. schools will start receiving some of the millions more COVID-19 rapid tests the province has ordered, distributing them to students to take home for themselves and their families.

It’s one five-test kit per student to take home for use by their families if anyone is showing symptoms of COVID-19. They are less accurate than standard testing, but results are much faster, typically within 20 minutes of taking the test.

While many appear to be glad to finally receive some RATs, there are still questions as to why it took so long.

B.C.’s rapid test rollout to the general public trails behind the rest of the country, and among those critical of the response is Safe Schools Coalition of B.C.

Member and Burnaby teacher Jennifer Heighton says she wishes the B.C. government had the foresight shown by some other provinces.

“It would have been great if that had happened, if the foresight had happened in B.C. as well, in Nova Scotia they had rapid tests handed out to students way earlier in the fall and then they did a second round handed out in December as well,” Heighton said.

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“It’s definitely better late than never so we are happy that it’s happening now but we wish it had happened sooner. So, as an example, in Ontario the government announced in November they would be sending home rapid tests, five per student for the winter break, and that’s what they did.”

B.C. saw a collapse of its testing centres over the holidays, with a surge of Omicron leading to overwhelming demand, and cold weather closing several testing sites in the Lower Mainland.

Of the few testing sites open, many found themselves given a take home rapid test instead of the PCR test, which also impacted the data on tracking the number of cases.

Something Heighton says is a concern especially when it comes to cases in schools.

“The rapid tests are welcome way of families being able to gauge and be able to move forward. The fact the government has a way of self-reporting those rapid test results is also good, however it would be better if the government were to release that data and tell people how many have tested positive by rapid test, considering that PCR tests are limited.”

Adding, “The majority of the population is now depending on rapid tests to see whether they are positive … it would be a good gauge of how much virus is spreading in the community if the rapid tests numbers were available, too, but we are not aware of any public reporting of that data that they are collecting.”

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The province changed its guidance and now recommends those with mild symptoms not seek PCR testing.

Rapid tests will be more widely available for seniors starting next week at pharmacies and eventually for everyone in the province as more are shipped to B.C.

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