Alberta’s in-school rapid screening test program will expand to as many as 300 schools in Calgary, Edmonton, Lethbridge and Grande Prairie, the provincial government announced Saturday.
Testing will begin in coming weeks as rapid testing teams are set up. A total of 440,000 rapid test kits will be distributed to schools, and testing will be offered to up to 220,000 students and staff across Alberta.
“We are stepping-up our fight against COVID-19 by expanding the rapid testing program in Alberta schools to ensure students, teachers and staff remain safe. Rapid testing in schools offers another layer of protection to our schools,” said Premier Jason Kenney.
Junior and senior high schools in these communities will be prioritized based on a variety of factors, including the prevalence of COVID-19 in the school and community.
Teams may also be deployed at a school outside of the four communities if Alberta Health identifies a need at a specific school.
Provincial officials will work with school authorities to determine which schools will participate. Testing teams will set up at selected schools to screen students and staff who don’t have symptoms and have signed consent forms.
Eight school boards are participating in the expanded rapid testing program: Edmonton Catholic School District, Edmonton Public Schools, Calgary Board of Education, Calgary Catholic Schools, Grande Prairie & District Catholic Schools, Grande Prairie Public School Division, Holy Spirit Catholic School Division and Lethbridge School Division.
Alberta’s NDP Education Critic Sarah Hoffman said it’s “too little, too late” from the United Conservative Party government in response to the announcement.
“Kenney’s dithering puts Alberta families and businesses at risk and harms our prospects for economic recovery. Today’s rapid testing announcement comes four months late, even while COVID-19 and variant cases have spread through hundreds of schools across Alberta,” said Hoffman.
Jason Schilling, Alberta Teachers’ Association president, said the expansion of the rapid testing program is welcome, but it is not enough.
“This decision is reactive – and late – when schools need proactive solutions in this race against COVID spread,” said Schilling.
“The government has made keeping schools open a priority, so they need to make keeping the safety of people working and learning in those buildings a priority.
“Teachers and parents are very concerned about the rapid spread of variants of concern in our communities and schools. Last November, secondary schools moved online with 1,700 cases in schools, currently we have 2,400 cases in schools – many of them variants of concern – and nearly one-in-five schools have alerts or outbreaks.”