NWT announces COVID-19 At-Home Student Screening Pilot Program

Press Release

October 18, 2021

The Department of Health and Social Services, in conjunction with the Department of Education, Culture and Employment, is introducing a new COVID-19 at-home student screening program to help protect the unvaccinated NWT student population (ages 5-11).

Parents will have the option to volunteer to have their children included in the program. Each week a random sampling of 10% of classroom students will be selected for asymptomatic testing. These tests will be administered using the At Home Abbott Panbio Rapid Response test by parents or the student themselves and involves a simple swab in the lower region of the nose, which offers immediate test results.

Results will be reported through an online platform, or a paper form if preferred. Only the program administrator at the child’s school will have access to identifiable test results. Once all identifying information has been removed from the data, they will be forwarded along to the Department of Health and Social Services. Any positive test results will require confirmation at a health centre or COVID screening site and students will be required to isolate while they await confirmation of the test results.

This program is being offered in settings where there is the highest risk for large-scale community spread – in the territory’s largest elementary schools along with any smaller school in proximity to large outbreak centers. Included in the program are 12 schools in total, in Yellowknife, Hay River, Behchokǫ̀, Inuvik, Ndilǫ and Dettah.

The goal of this program is to maintain ongoing testing among asymptomatic children to detect the early infection and prevent further transmission of COVID-19 in schools. The program will continue until a vaccine is widely available to this population and uptake is high enough. This pilot program can only be offered if there is enough participation from students to meet the minimum testing requirements for the program (10% of the student population per week).

The Department of Health and Social Services acknowledges that these tests may be uncomfortable for children, and that many students have been tested for COVID-19 and may not be eager to sign up for more. It is important to realize that this program will be instrumental in allowing schools to return to in-person learning. This approach is being used widely in both school and workplace settings across Canada and is considered a key tool in controlling the spread of the disease and enabling in person learning and working to continue.

Quote(s)

“This screening program will allow Public Health to detect asymptomatic cases of COVID-19 among students and respond quickly to isolate cases and reduce the risk of spread within the schools. If participation is high enough, we are hopeful that this program will help to ensure the continuation of in-person learning.”

-Julie Green, Minister of Health and Social Services

“The health and safety of students, school staff and communities remains our top priority. At-home student screening will bolster our efforts to return to, and to maintain, in-person learning, while also helping to protect all of our residents from COVID-19.”

-R.J. Simpson, Minister of Education, Culture and Employment

“This home monitoring program is an important part of the safe return to school plans.  This non-invasive test, performed at home, will help keep our children safe from a potential outbreak while ensuring in-class learning is maximized.  I encourage parents and guardians to enrol in the home test monitoring program and reach out to  cpho@gov.nt.ca with any questions, concerns or feedback about our plans moving forward.”

-Dr. Kami Kandola, NWT Chief Public Health Officer

Quick facts

  • On May 6, 2021, the GNWT began vaccinating adolescents aged 12-17 with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine just one day after Health Canada approval for those 12 years of age and older.
  • On October 1, 2021 Pfizer-BioNTech submitted preliminary clinical trial data to Health Canada for children ages 5-11 years. On October 18, 2021 a formal filing of the full submission for Health Canada authorization for this age category is expected within the coming days.

Related links

For media requests, please contact:

Jeremy Bird

Manager, Communications

Health and Social Services

Government of the Northwest Territories

Jeremy_Bird@gov.nt.ca

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