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Michael Garron Hospital pilots take-home COVID-19 testing kits in East Toronto schools
As Toronto families prepare to send their children back to school on Feb. 16, Michael Garron Hospital (MGH) hopes to make COVID-19 testing as accessible as possible for students in East Toronto.
Starting Feb.16, a pilot program spearheaded by Dr. Janine McCready and MGH’s school-based outreach team (Jonah Chevrier infection control practitioner; Brad Lucifora, clinical nurse; and Jasmin Soobrian, project manager) will see select schools in the Toronto District, Viamonde, Mon Avenir Catholic and Toronto Catholic District school boards using take-home tests to make it easier for students to get tested for COVID-19.
The plan is being finalized for select schools associated with MGH in the Toronto District School Board. Families can contact their local school to determine if they are part of the pilot program and if so, where and how to pick-up a take home testing kit.
“We know that proactive testing is a critical component of fighting this disease, so we need to make it as simple as possible for families, especially in communities with higher positivity rates of COVID-19,” says Dr. McCready, infectious diseases physician at MGH. “Instead of having to book an appointment, organize transportation with multiple children and wait in line for a test, the take-home kits help to reduce these barriers; parents can simply drop off the test at a local pop-up testing site.”
The goal of the take-home tests is to reduce time for testing for students and to quickly find positive cases before COVID-19 can spread and cause additional exposures to families or other students in schools.
How it works
Watch the video to see how to self-administer a take-home COVID-19 test.
Take-home testing kits can be used if and when a child presents with symptoms of COVID-19 or after another student or staff member in their class has tested positive for COVID-19.
The take home tests are lab-based polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests. The kit includes a mouth nose swab (i.e. swabbing the tongue, cheek and inside the nostril) instead of the nasopharyngeal swab (NP) commonly used for COVID-19 testing. The mouth nose swab makes it easier for the child to self-administer the COVID-19 test (watch the video above or read these step-by-step instructions).
Once the test is complete, families can drop off the COVID-19 test at a local pop-up testing site in East Toronto for processing. The turnaround time for results is approximately 24 hours. If the child is positive, Dr. McCready or a member of MGH’s infectious diseases team is notified and will contact the families directly for follow-up, advice and next steps.
A multi-pronged approach to supporting schools in East Toronto
The MGH School Outreach team led by Dr. McCready aims to support East Toronto schools in their ability to operate safely and respond quickly to suspected and confirmed cases of COVID-19. MGH provides support to 134 schools in East Toronto across four independent school boards.
In addition to take-home tests, MGH’s school-based outreach program offers a multi-pronged approach to keeping East Toronto schools safe. In early February, the MGH team launched an Infection Prevention and Control (IPAC) pilot program at Grenoble Public School where 10 school champions (including office staff, a Slovak- speaking TDSB newcomer support staff, educators from Kindergarten to Grade 6 and administrators) were trained over a two-week period on IPAC best practices and principles so that they can act as advocates within the school.
Dr. McCready and team have hosted virtual Q&A sessions for principals and teachers of East Toronto schools since August and partnered with the East Toronto Family Practice Network (EasT-FPN) to create a hub-and-spoke model whereby family physicians from EasT-FPN act as clinical liaisons with principals from 12 priority schools to offer enhanced support to meet the specific needs of their student populations.
In December 2020, Dr. McCready and team spearheaded broad-based asymptomatic school testing in East Toronto, an initiative that was part of a pilot program with the Ministry of Education in partnership with Toronto Public Health (TPH) and the Toronto District School Board (TDSB).
“We want to support schools in East Toronto as much as possible so we can better understand how much community transmission is happening at schools and in classrooms,” says Dr. McCready. “This allows us to help schools improve their infection prevention and control strategies so we can keep students and staff safe as the pandemic evolves.”