Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools is looking into the feasibility of offering rapid COVID-19 testing as a means to keeping schools safer.
Ryan Ledene, the school division’s associate superintendent of human resources, said the rapid testing project is only in the planning stages so far and significant research on logistics and regulatory and health requirements remains to be done.
“We are in the exploratory stages but we have a bit of a plan we want to continue to develop,” said Ledene. “There is a lot of work to having it done. It’s certainly not going to just happen.”
Teachers, staff and students are not required to prove they have been vaccinated to enter school buildings. The division believes most of its teachers and other staff are vaccinated but does not have a firm number on what the percentage is.
When the vaccines were rolled out, the school division offered opportunities for staff to get their shots.
“There was a lot of uptake. The staff really responded well,” said Ledene. “I have never gotten so many positive emails from teachers saying thank you for setting that up.”
The school division is considering whether to require proof of either vaccination or a recent negative test. Introducing rapid testing would make it easier for those choosing that option.
However, offering rapid testing is not a simple prospect. There must be staff trained to administer the tests, which must meet rigorous health requirements. Even where and when in the schools the tests will be offered are details that would have to be ironed out.
“We need to make sure we have the human resources to take this on while managing cost,” he said.
Alberta Health has a stockpile of rapid tests available to schools. Education Minister Adriana LaGrange said recently that more than 400,000 kits were going to schools in Edmonton, Calgary, Lethbridge and Grande Prairie to screen up to 200,000 students and 20,000 staff.
Currently, Grade 4-12 students must wear masks in school, except when doing physical activities.
Throughout the pandemic, schools have had to respond quickly to changing regulations and whether students can come to school or must do online learning.
There is the possibility the province may decide that all school staff and teachers must be vaccinated or show proof of a negative test so having done the background work now could prove very useful.
The nature of the vaccine roll-outs and the focus on Albertans from older than 12 means there are large clusters of unvaccinated people in schools.
“Elementary schools have probably the largest community of unvaccinated people in society right now. That’s not a great spot to be in.”
While students in Grades 7 to 12 are eligible for vaccination it appears the uptake has, so far, been fairly low.
Red Deer Public Schools says it is not looking into rapid testing at this time.