Ottawa parents calling for rapid COVID-19 testing access for children
OTTAWA -- For many Ottawa parents, the long drive down Bronson Avenue, and the wait at the Brewer Assessment Centre is a familiar one; 18 months into a pandemic, unvaccinated children remain largely at risk of being exposed to the virus.
"I mean I’ve actually lost track of how many times they’ve all been tested at this point," said Regina Bateson, a parent of three kids all under the age of 12.
No stranger to the process, Bateson is now looking to become even more familiar with COVID-19 testing; hoping soon she’ll be able to administer them herself.
The mother of three, along with a small group of Ottawa parents, are pushing the province to improve access to rapid antigen tests.
"We think it would make a tremendous amount of sense to channel the rapid tests that the province already has towards that group of people where you’re mostly likely to find asymptomatic people and stop outbreaks before they happen," Bateson said.
Currently, the tests are made available by the province to businesses and are used as a way to ensure unvaccinated employees can continue to work.
"You have someone who’s unvaccinated and you want to make it so that they can continue to work, and so you do rapid testing twice a week for them, I think that’s a good use case, I think that’s probably the best use case that we’ve got," Dr. Doug Manuel, a Senior Scientist at The Ottawa Hospital said.
Bateson is hoping those tests will be available for schools and parents across the province, but as it stands she says she is frustrated by the lack of access.
"They have this resource and they’re not using it and worse yet they’re even making it impossible for volunteers who want to take action on their own to access the tests," she said.
Speaking earlier this month, Ontario's Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Kieran Moore said the province would consider rapid testing if COVID rates increase.
"If our rates go up in certain areas, like in Windsor, it’s at 100 (cases) per 100,000, that’s where you would consider doing rapid testing to ensure confidence in children retuning to the classroom as well as increased safety," Moore said on September 9.
In Ottawa, cases are relatively low, but cases among kids 5-11 years old are still roughly triple the rates of those found in adults.
"Right now we’re seeing a level of transmission in the schools that is pretty low, that said, cases in kids are increasing and cases that we’re seeing are often in kids," Dr. Manuel said.
Manuel says due to that relatively low levels of transmission in Ottawa it’s possible the rate of false-positives returned by rapid antigen tests would outpace true-positive results, possibly leading to negative consequences.
"In the workplace we’re screening with rapid for people who are asymptomatic, unvaccinated and unexposed. And in the school if you do that you’re child is more likely going to have a false positive test and then they’re not going to school when they could," Manuel said.
On Friday, Dr. Moore said he doesn’t anticipate offering rapid tests to areas with low-case levels but targeted settings, like a classroom outbreak or area with high case-levels, are a possibility.
"(We) are prepared to put them in play in high risk communities, and in active discussion with some health units in the southwest where they have high community rates of infection," said Moore. "And I think it would be prudent in those instances. I'd be cautious in adopting a strategy in a setting where you have very low risk of infection and where you haven't had significant outbreaks in the classroom and/or if you have very high immunization rates in the students such as high schools."
Despite the concerns, parents say they’re still looking for any added protection they can offer their children.
"In terms of interest from people who want this for their kids, I would say that it’s overwhelming; the issue is really meeting that demand and that’s where we’ve just found impenetrable roadblocks," Bateson said.
Ottawa Public Health and CHEO offer take home PCR tests for parents, and more than 120 schools in the city currently offer a take home testing program, with the goal of expanding it to every school in the city.