Alberta is expanding a rapid testing program in schools to test up to 200,000 students and 20,000 staff.
It follows a pilot in two Calgary schools launched last month. Now the province is setting up teams to expand the program to up to 300 schools across the province, first in Edmonton and Calgary and followed by Lethbridge and Grande Prairie.
"To ensure schools are able to operate during this third wave of COVID, we're significantly expanding rapid testing to more schools and regions of the province as soon as possible," Premier Jason Kenney said during a media availability Saturday.
About 440,000 rapid tests from the federal government are set to be distributed to the schools. The province is promising rapid testing teams in all school regions by mid-April before operating at full capacity mid-May.
Kenney said the government is limiting the program's scope as the swab tests require some technical training to administer.
"There simply isn't enough capacity [for all schools] ... but we're going to the maximum that we possibly can with the resources that are available."
He said private sector vendors were being brought in to assist in the program.
Health Minister Adriana LaGrange said she had heard positive feedback from the pilot in two Calgary schools and expects parents will want to know when testing may be available.
"I ask for your patience as we sort out the details of when and where and then allow time for schools to gather consent," she said.
Rapid testing teams may also be deployed at schools outside the four selected municipalities should Alberta Health identify a need, according to a news release.
Junior and high schools are being prioritized based on factors like the prevalence of COVID-19 in the community.
Eight school boards are set to participate in the program:
Edmonton Catholic School District.
Edmonton Public Schools.
Calgary Board of Education.
Calgary Catholic Schools;.
Grande Prairie & District Catholic Schools.
Grande Prairie Public School Division.
Holy Spirit Catholic School Division.
Lethbridge School Division.
Students and staff without symptoms and not identified as close contacts can also get tested while attending school. Results are typically available at the school within the hour.
Several school boards issued supportive statements in response to the expansion announcement, including Calgary Board of Education and Edmonton Public Schools.