HALIFAX — The Nova Scotia government has begun delivering take-home rapid tests to students across the province, representing a shift toward testing the unvaccinated, and as a growing number of COVID-19 exposures are reported in schools.
Education Minister Becky Druhan says that by the end of the week, 320,000 rapid tests will have been distributed to schools, destined for families of students in pre-primary to Grade 6. Since the beginning of October, there have been nearly 40 COVID-19 exposure notices at schools across Nova Scotia.
Druhan says the government will evaluate the first phase of the rapid test rollout to see whether it's worth expanding.
"We'll be evaluating how it's working, evaluating the volumes and the feedback that we receive from families and we'll make some decisions on how to move it forward," Druhan told reporters Wednesday.
Nova Scotia has leaned heavily on rapid tests during the pandemic to detect asymptomatic COVID-19 cases, and the government has made them accessible to residents through pop-up centres across the province.
In September, chief medical officer Dr. Robert Strang said asymptomatic testing would be winding down ahead of the province's final phase of its COVID-19 recovery plan. Instead, the government would target the unvaccinated, he said, such as people under the age of 12, who aren't yet eligible for vaccination.
Strand told reporters Thursday that the province would be conducting "some type of testing" into 2022. "But … the parameter around who gets tested is very much driven by the evolving epidemiology of the pandemic."
Dr. John Ross, medical director at Praxes Medical Group, which has partnered with the government for COVID-19 testing, said the government's testing strategy should “continue to evolve” in response to changes in disease spread.
“We're ready to respond to needs as they develop, which is kind of a nice position to be in,” he said in an interview Thursday.
Praxes Medical Group provided rapid COVID-19 testing for essential workers in the province in October 2020. Ross called the rapid testing strategy an “unquestionable advantage” in Nova Scotia’s overall COVID-19 plan because, it helped to evaluate a portion of the population that may have not gotten tested otherwise.
“Up to 40 per cent of people with COVID-19 do not have symptoms or have such minor symptoms that they basically ignore them," Ross said. "And we are getting them at that kind of more infectious stage too, so the rapid tests, while somewhat less sensitive than the PCR test, is actually really effective when it really counts."
Meanwhile, the government reported 26 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday and announced it would make booster shots available to vulnerable people and for residents who need to travel for work.
Twenty-three new cases were identified in the central zone of the province, which includes Halifax. Two new cases were reported in the western zone and one in the eastern zone. Five more schools in the Halifax area had been notified of COVID-19 exposures, officials added.
Nova Scotia has 198 active reported cases of COVID-19 and 12 people in hospital with the disease, including two in intensive care. More than 740,000 Nova Scotians are fully vaccinated against the novel coronavirus.
Residents who are moderately to severely immunocompromised will be able to book a third dose of a COVID-19 vaccine starting Oct. 19, according to officials. People going through active cancer treatments, who are infected with HIV or who are taking immunosuppressive medications are among those who may be eligible for a third dose, the government said.
Booster shots will also be made available to people who have received mixed doses and who need to travel for work in countries that either don't accept those travellers or that have isolation rules for people who have been vaccinated with different vaccines.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 14, 2021.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Danielle Edwards, The Canadian Press