SUDBURY -- Health officials in Sudbury are hoping a new program being run in schools across the province will add another layer of protection in the fight against COVID-19.

Just as the Greater Sudbury area is seeing an increase in the number of cases with direct ties to the classroom, asymptomatic testing is now being offered at schools.

"With asymptomatic clients, you don't know if you have the virus or not because you are asymptomatic," said Natalie Philippe, a nurse with Public Health Sudbury & Districts (PHSD). "So this will help us identify if there are individuals that do have COVID-19. So it's going to give us more of an epidemiological standpoint of understanding."

The province has hired GVT Labs, a third-party contractor, to facilitate and conduct the testing in schools across the province. While the program just started in late February, it's been a busy start.

"The testing is voluntary," said Irina Furman, the communications coordinator for GVT Labs. "So there are a lot of people that are definitely interested in getting their kids tested and because we are just moving so quickly here, there are still little kinks being worked out, with the registration system and how we contact parents and how the public health units contact parents."

Mobile lab

Furman said so far in Sudbury, the company has been working closely with both the Rainbow District School Board and the Sudbury Catholic District School Board. Officials with both of the city's French boards said that while they are prepared to launch, the green light has not yet been given by health officials.

This week, 10 schools with the Rainbow District School Board have participated, offering testing on a select school day.

"It's really a mobile lab," said Furman. "It's a lab that is fully equipped with registered nurses and admin staff that travels to a given location, a school in our case, conducts all the testing and in some cases we do process the tests … Sometimes we just collect the samples and then send them to a different processing lab for processing and result reporting."

Officials are able to offer both PCR and rapid testing. PCR testing is conducted in school areas where health officials have determined there's a high level of transmission of the virus, while rapid testing has been the most common so far.

"I think participation is going to help us tremendously because with asymptomatic, because we don't know with symptoms in terms of virus and how the virus is spreading, now that we have variants as well we really want to have a sound understanding of what is happening," said Philippe.

Parents who wish to have their child participate are asked to register online. However, accommodations will be made for those who are concerned about the program.

Ask questions

"We do give an opportunity to those parents to actually walk in with their child to the testing facility, look around, ask questions and then register their child on the spot, provide their consent on the spot and get tested," said Furman.

Once registered online, individuals will be assigned a QR code to bring with them to their appointment. If an individual tests positive for COVID with a rapid test at the school, that result and individual are referred to the health unit, where further testing will be completed.

"It's also going to give us an idea of how many people are being tested on a regular basis and how many will have tested positive, how many will have tested negative," said Philippe. "So it gives us a bit of an idea of how the virus is spreading in our community, too."

Health officials warn this is meant for those experiencing no symptoms, not for those who are experiencing a COVID-19 symptom.

GVT Labs was founded at the start of the pandemic. Led by a team including a medical lab processor, a privacy officer and a medical doctor, they said they have the tools needed to fight a new virus.

"Now GVT was really formed around that technology and around that ability to do the testing in multiple locations over large geographic areas and to process the results," said Furman.

For more information about GVT labs and its mobile testing program, click here