WINNIPEG schools are requesting families only accept rapid tests being distributed to K-6 students if they plan to use them and return unused kits they have no intention of utilizing, in order to address high demand and limited supply.
Before classes were dismissed at the end of 2021, the Manitoba government announced the launch of an optional return-to-school testing program that would see elementary students supplied with rapid antigen tests.
The province indicated it had ordered more than 90,000 kits, each containing five tests, from the federal government — enough to ensure every student enrolled in kindergarten through Grade 6 in a public or division-administered First Nations school in Manitoba could receive a kit.
Officials did not confirm Wednesday how many of the kits have been obtained and distributed to schools.
"The government has provided test packages for 93 per cent of our K-6 population, meaning we are working with a limited supply," Christian Michalik, superintendent of the Louis Riel School Division, wrote in an email to parents this week.
"We have not yet confirmed from government when we will receive additional RATs (rapid antigen tests). We, as a school division, are not able to procure additional RATs," the email said.
"If you already have access to RATs, please consider opting out to receive a package at this time. If we receive an overwhelming response for tests, we may need to employ a different strategy such as only providing one package per family."
The division held off on distributing tests to families before the winter break so they would be used at the tail end, as students re-enter schools for in-person learning on a full-time basis. Leaders are currently polling families to figure out who wants a kit and how to get it in their hands.
Michalik told the Free Press leaders are fielding lots of questions and concerns about access to rapid tests from both the families of older students and educators. The unfortunate reality, he said, is supplies are simply limited at present.
The division is in the process of creating new correspondence templates that will be distributed to school communities when a student or staff member tests positive on a rapid test. Michalik noted contact tracing will require families to be forthcoming and report cases directly to schools in those instances.
Also in recent days, families at École Tuxedo Park in the Pembina Trails School Division were asked to return kits if they do not plan to use them because "schools did not receive enough kits for all students."
It is up to a family’s discretion to use and access a kit. There are no reporting requirements tied to the program.
Meantime, the head of Western School Division in Morden indicated Wednesday rural schools have some remaining supply in the wake of widespread distribution to families before the holiday break.
Superintendent Stephen Ross said he has asked local schools to remind families about the availability of kits, and inform them ones claimed soon will be made available to those who want additional tests.
"The bulk of them did go out," said Ross, "but we don’t want one kit sitting around if there’s a family that could use it."
Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.