Toronto school staff work through the weekend to prepare COVID-19 rapid test kits

The three-layer fabric and N95 masks provided by the provincial government were photographed at Willows Walk Public School in Whitby, Ont., On January 14, 2022.Christopher Katsarov / The Globe and Mail

Staff at the Toronto District School Board worked over the weekend to prepare COVID-19 rapid antigen tests for high school teachers and education workers ahead of Monday’s return to personal learning, with more shipments still expected to arrive.

A TDSB spokesman said the board only received its first samples for high school staff in the middle of last week and that they are still waiting for more supplies to arrive on Monday. Secondary staff will each receive two samples when they return to schools. High school students received tests before the break.

“TDSB received the first shipment of rapid antigen tests on Wednesday night. Since then and throughout the weekend, staff have been collecting supplies for distribution to our 583 schools,” said Ryan Bird.

Brandon Zoras, vice-principal of Westview Centennial Secondary School in northwest Toronto, said the shipping delays meant he spent last Friday breaking up five-pack boxes of quick antigen tests, placing two of them in small plastic bags, which the school board bought, and get them. ready to hand out to staff Monday morning.

He used gloves and a table wiped with antiviral disinfectant to handle the tests, each wrapped in plastic, and wore an N95 mask throughout the process. Poor planning and last-minute announcements from the provincial government caused him to spend hours on the task, Mr Zoras said.

“I’m not surprised I had to do this. During this pandemic, many employees in training from all staff groups, students and parents had to bear the burden of this pandemic,” Mr. Zoras said.

Federal authorities aim to spread 140 million rapid tests to the provinces by the end of January, after the dramatic increase in COVID-19 cases prompted some provinces to limit the more accurate polymerase chain reaction tests to healthcare professionals and high-risk individuals.

TDSB said staff will continue work this week when more tests are scheduled to arrive.

“Shipments of tests are expected to be made during the day on Monday to all locations where school staff and / or school volunteers still need to gather them further in individual two-test packages,” said Mr. Bird.

Since the packages with fast antigen tests only come with one set of instructions, Mr. Zoras that photocopied and digital instructions were sent to staff. The packages also come with only one test tube rack, which is necessary to keep a quick test upright as it is completed.

Mr. Zoras said there were do-it-yourself options he had seen online to create a test tube rack, such as using Play-Doh to make a mold or using a small cup.

On Twitter, some parents expressed concern that school staff opened packages with the samples at home and did not have all the equipment in the boxes.

However, infectious disease specialists said they did not see a problem with practice.

Gerald Evans, chairman of the Department of Infectious Diseases at Queen’s University in Kingston, said his concern was that staff were only given two tests.

“We know from our experience in healthcare that some employees will use the test even when they are healthy, often as an insurance policy, even if it is not a proper strategy,” said Dr. Evans. “If that were the case, they could quickly run out of tests to use when they actually need it.”

However, not all school boards limit tests to only two for each employee. In an email, a spokesman for Ontario’s District School Board of Niagara said the staff who were there would each receive the full package of five tests. Kim Sweeney said staff at the schools also received two samples before the winter break.

In a statement, Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce said the province is continuing to work on acquiring more rapid tests, with one million tests expected to arrive in the coming week.

“We have and will continue to focus on investing in quality air ventilation, faster testing and [personal protective equipment], “said Mr. Lecce.

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