The city of Toronto announced this week that all staff members and children in care of licensed child care programs will have access to COVID-19 rapid antigen tests.
Each staff member and child will have access to two tests. The city is working with the province to distribute the tests in order to help reduce the spread of the virus, protect those at-risk and keep child care centres open.
“Rapid antigen tests are one of the many tools that are available to help contain the spread of the highly contagious Omicron variant,” Shanley McNamee, General Manager of Children’s Services for the City of Toronto said in an email statement to Humber News.
McNamee said the province is also helping child care centres administer the tests accurately and when needed, by providing them with instructions and advanced screening tools.
“While we know that children are much less likely to have severe outcomes from contracting COVID, they can be vectors of spread to their households, to their teachers and to the community,” University of Toronto associate professor Dionne Aleman said.
“So it’s important to know if a kid is infected as quickly as we can, so they can be isolated and not cause a large number of secondary and tertiary infections.”
The accuracy of rapid tests has been called into question recently, but Aleman said they have a very low false-positive rate and can still significantly help reduce transmission.
She also said people should take negative test results “with a little bit of a grain of salt” because user error and other factors can sometimes result in false negatives.
Often times it can take more than one rapid test to detect COVID-19. Aleman said this is because there might not be a high enough viral load within the first couple of days after exposure to show a positive result.
“You’re basically using your entire supply of rapid tests for one suspected infection, so it would definitely be better to get a lot more tests out there,” Aleman said.
With just two tests per person, supplies may not last long in a room full of young children who are often not cautious or aware of the spread of germs.
“Kids in general are not very hygienic. They touch everything, they put their fingers in their mouths and noses. It’s just how kids are,” she said. “So there’s just a lot of opportunities for any sort of contagious disease to spread.”
Jakoba Schmitt, classroom assistant at the Mini Skool child care centre in Mississauga, Ont., said the older children where she works sometimes need reminders to wear their masks or sanitize their hands, but it can be a little more of a challenge dealing with the younger children.
“The little kids are really too small to understand the full capacity of what’s going on,” Schmitt said.
Schmitt said there have been several safety measures in place throughout the pandemic to protect both staff and children, including full PPE for staff members, limited capacity and increased sanitization.
When a staff member has to isolate while they wait to get a test and then wait up to 48 hours more for their results, it can affect the whole daycare centre, since there needs to be a certain number of staff members and registered early childhood educator in each room.
Having access to rapid tests could eliminate the need for the waiting period entirely and keep things running more smoothly.
“It’s going to help alleviate stress in so many different departments of the center. Not only scheduling and administration, but also how staff feel in the building. I’d feel really secure knowing that we all have access to the tests,” Schmitt said.
Mayor John Tory said Tuesday in a media release that the city is focused on safety for everyone.
“The City is committed to supporting any effort to help prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus and to keep children, their families and child care workers safe,” he said.
“By providing one more tool to help detect symptomatic cases, we can make a concerted effort to contain the spread of COVID-19 and keep child care programs open for the families that need them.”