Voluntary COVID tests begin in Ottawa to catch asymptomatic students, staff at schools

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That presents a challenge for schools trying to keep the virus out by asking students and staff to screen themselves, Dr. Nisha Thampi, an infectious disease specialist at CHEO, wrote in a recent article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

A study of Alberta children under age 19 found that 35.9 per cent of those testing positive for COVID-19 between April and September reported no symptoms, she wrote.

That proportion may be higher than other studies reporting asymptomatic rates of between 15 to 20 per cent because Alberta has a strategy of widely testing close contacts of people with COVID-19, Thampi wrote.

Dr. Nisha Thampi is an infectious disease specialist at CHEO. Photo by Tony Caldwell /Postmedia

Testing close contacts is important to limit the spread of COVID-19 spread in schools, Thampi said in an interview.

Currently, students and staff identified as close contacts of someone at school with COVID-19 are sent home to isolate for 14 days. In many cases, that’s the entire classroom. Close contacts could also include students who ride the same bus or attend before and after-school daycare.

Ottawa Public Health recommends close contacts get tested for COVID-19, but it’s not mandatory in order to go back to school.

Some parents may be reluctant to subject their child to the nasal swab test, Thampi said.

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“Maybe in September parents were willing to take their kids for their first (nasal) swab, but, when it becomes their third or fourth, parents might say, ‘OK, this is very difficult for us to watch our kid getting this. Our kid is refusing to get it, so why don’t we just keep him home for (14) days?’

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