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Ontario school children must develop coronavirus symptoms while at school to get free testing: document

Public school students will only be eligible for the free COVID-19 PCR test if they develop symptoms while in school, or the district’s document guiding the return of personal learning cases, refusing groups of students or even notifying families after exposure is now a thing of the past.

Released hours before the Ford government confirmed Monday that in-person learning will resume across Ontario on January 17, the seven-page document says the use of PCR testing in schools will be “limited” to those showing only the most telling symptoms of a COVID-19 infection.

The kits will not be offered to children exposed to fellow asymptomatic colleagues, even if that fellow has been confirmed to have COVID-19.

“The self-assembly of take-home PCR kits will only be used in limited circumstances. These kits should only be made available to symptomatic elementary/secondary school students and education staff who develop symptoms while in school,” the new guidance states.

The kits will not be offered to children exposed to fellow asymptomatic colleagues, even if that fellow has been confirmed to have COVID-19.

The new guidance says: “PCR self-assembly kits will not be provided to individuals with individual symptoms requiring isolation only until symptoms improve for 24-48 hours (eg, runny nose), or to entire school groups/groups.”

During the previous semester, schools provided PCR self-assembly kits for children who developed symptoms, those who were exposed, and even all school students if an outbreak was declared at the school.

The new guidelines also separate symptoms into two levels, where anyone at school with fever, difficulty breathing, chills or a sudden loss of taste or smell is able to get tested right away.

For other symptoms such as a runny nose, extreme tiredness, headache, or sore throat, two or more symptoms warrant access to a PCR test.

In general, anyone with symptoms consistent with those listed above should assume they have COVID-19, even if there is no testing available.

Those showing symptoms should be isolated, although the length of time required for isolation varies in most circumstances based on vaccination status.

Unvaccinated people 12 years of age and older should be fully isolated if they develop any symptoms of COVID-19 for 10 days from the date of onset of symptoms or the date of a positive test, whichever comes first.

Fully vaccinated pupils age 12 and older when they develop any symptoms of COVID-19 must self-isolate for five days from onset of symptoms or a positive test, whichever occurs before. They can come out of isolation 24 hours after they show signs of improvement in their symptoms.

But among students 11 years of age or younger, there is no differentiation for isolation purposes based on vaccination status.

All pupils 11 years of age or younger can go out of self-isolation after five days, provided symptoms have improved.

As of Monday, 47 percent of children ages 5 to 11 had received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and 3.5 percent were fully vaccinated.

Siblings, parents, and other family members should also self-isolate during student isolation.

The document states that if a child tests positive for COVID-19 on a home rapid antigen test, the parent is under no obligation to report the result to the school or local public health unit.

The directive also calls for surveillance testing for students who use rapid antigen tests, but only “when an offer is available.”

The Department of Health said last week that it could receive up to 119 million rapid antigen tests in January, but most of them will be required in the healthcare and mass-care sectors.

Previous guidance from the Education Department to school boards said the district would no longer collect or release COVID-19 infection data from schools.

Segregation of class cohorts will be left to the individual school or board officials.

Previous directives from the Ministry of Education suggested the possibility of classes collapsing with one another in the event of widespread absence due to illness.

Parents should not expect notifications of positive cases that have been identified in their child’s class either.

“Due to the widespread prevalence and the inability to test all individuals with symptoms, schools will not routinely notify students/students in classrooms who have a positive case, or if a child/student or staff member is absent due to symptoms associated with COVID-19, Indicative countries.

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