Quebec expands rapid testing in primary schools; reports 821 new COVID cases Saturday

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MONTREAL — Quebec reported 821 new COVID-19 cases and three further deaths in its latest data on Saturday, as authorities expanded plans to use rapid tests in elementary schools to more regions of the province.

Health officials said hospitalizations increased by two to 264, while the number of patients in intensive care dropped by six to 89.

The province said about 80 per cent of new infections involve people who were not adequately vaccinated.

Quebec administered 19,662 vaccine doses on Friday and officials said 88 per cent of Quebecers aged 12 and older have received a first dose while 82 per cent have gotten both shots.

Health Minister Christian Dubé said in a tweet more than 1,000 of those doses went to health-care workers, with the province remaining firm on a plan to have all sector employees adequately vaccinated Oct. 15 or face reassignment or suspension without pay.

"It’s never too late to get the vaccine, it’s the best way to protect yourself and others," Dubé wrote on Saturday.

The province conducted more than 32,000 tests on Friday and the positivity rate is 2.4 per cent.

Late Friday, Quebec’s Health Department said rapid testing in elementary schools will now extend to several administrative regions of the province where masking in classrooms is already mandatory.

In a statement, officials said the deployment will take a few weeks and include nearly 1,600 schools.

The provincial government came under criticism from opposition parties and school administrators on the rollout of the testing program.

The province appointed Daniel Paré, head of the vaccination campaign, to co-ordinate the deployment.

The Health Department said schools will have the tests and PPE needed to use the tests, reserved for students who develop COVID-19 symptoms during the day and training and protocols are being set up.

“They are a complementary tool to quickly detect cases and further protect students and school staff and ensure that young people continue to receive their education at school," the department said.

The tests, which provide a result in 15 minutes, have been used in four neighbourhoods in Montreal and Laval since Monday.

Schools are expected to begin using the tests widely by the end of the month, when training of staff to use the tests is complete.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 18, 2021.

Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press

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