School-age children are not eligible for PCR COVID-19 testing for the duration of time schools are closed to in-person learning, Ontario health bureaucrats revealed Thursday.

School-age kids were one of the few groups left eligible for PCR testing when the Ford government significantly narrowed the testing guidance one week ago due to overwhelming demand.

But since schools are closed to in-person learning until at least Jan. 17, officials said Thursday parents should not book appointments for their symptomatic children at assessment centres until schools resume operations.

Health bureaucrats said on background during a technical briefing any Indigenous child, a child identified in an outbreak investigation or a child who is considered to be under housed or homeless would still be eligible for free PCR COVID-19 testing.

Ontario’s new testing guidance excludes a significant number of people from access to free testing, regardless of whether they show symptoms.

Officials suggested Ontario could secure as many as 119 million rapid antigen tests in January, but most of them would be needed to intensely surveil healthcare workers as well as residents and staff in congregate care.

The new guidance excludes seniors of any age, provided they still live in the community and not in a congregate care setting.

Asked what symptomatic seniors should do if they believe they have COVID-19, officials said they should monitor their symptoms, contact their doctor or Telehealth Ontario if need be.

They said that if Health Canada approves any of the new COVID-19 antivirals, such as Pfizer’s Paxlovid pill, they would be prepared to update the testing guidance for community-dwelling seniors to access timely, free PCR-testing.

New 2 negative rapid test isolation policy

Building on the new isolation policy where vaccinated people with symptoms only need to isolate for five days if their symptoms improve, the province says that period can be shortened for those with access to rapid antigen tests.

“Two negatives 24 hours apart would allow you to return to your work setting or your school setting,” Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore said Thursday.

If someone tests negative on two rapid antigen tests taken at least 24 hours apart, that person can leave self isolation 24 hours after your symptoms improve.

No plans for central reporting portal for rapid antigen test results

After Ontario’s testing guidance was narrowed last week, a number of community-minded individuals set up online portals for people to report their positive rapid antigen test results.

Asked if the province would build such a portal, health officials said evidence from Britain suggests few people would actually report their positive test result and such an effort would not be helpful from a public health perspective.