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Tips for parents when students comes home with COVID-19 rapid tests

Ontario students are required to take a different type of test during the winter school break when they arrive home with rapid antigen test kits.

Five express tests will be sent home with each student sometime between now and December 17, depending on when each school receives the shipment.

This is a precautionary measure to help keep children safe when they return to class, says Sheila Bilder, student achievement supervisor for the Thames Valley County School Board.

So what do parents need to know? Builder gave this advice:

When do you test?

  • Every three to five days, starting on December 23.

Who should be tested?

  • Students who are asymptomatic.
  • Students who have not been in contact with someone who tested positive.

What is in the groups?

  • Five rapid antigen tests plus instructions on how to administer them.
  • Translated help for families who may need it in a different language.
  • Additional information in case of a positive test result and contact details for assessment centers.

So you got the results

If it comes back negative, you don’t do anything. Builder says schools do not require documentation and that children are returning to class as normal, continuing to follow public health guidelines.

If the rapid test result is positive, it is considered a positive initial test. A PCR test is required to confirm a positive case. This secondary test should ideally be performed within 48 hours of the primary results.

According to public health guidelines, Builder says close contacts should be isolated until the case is confirmed.

Examples of a rapid antigen test produced by the American medical device company Abbott, one of four rapid tests available in Ontario. (Robert Short/CBC)

Rapid Test vs PCR Test

Both tests use a nasal swab to collect nasal and throat secretions, but the similarities between the two end there.

Rapid antigen tests provide results within 15 minutes but are considered less accurate. It is more common to get a false negative or false positive result with rapid antigen tests. For those who receive a negative rapid test but still feel under the weather, a PCR test is generally recommended.

That’s because PCR tests are considered the gold standard when it comes to testing for COVID-19. PCR is used to identify the virus during a person’s infection as well as after an acute illness.

The downside to PCR tests is that results take longer than rapid tests. The general timeline is three to seven days, but it can be longer during peak periods.

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