Rapid testing for COVID-19 screening in the workplace

COVID Rapid Testing for Workplaces: Provincial Antigen Screening Program

Rapid antigen testing (rapid testing) is available for asymptomatic individuals who are part of a workplace or setting that is participating in the Provincial Antigen Screening Program. Rapid testing should be used for screening purposes only and should not be used for diagnosis of acute COVID-19 infection. Rapid testing does not prevent someone from getting COVID-19. It also does not replace public health measures such as symptom screening, physical distancing, PPE (masking, eye protection) and hand hygiene. Rapid testing can be thought of as an additional screening tool. Any positive results from rapid testing must be confirmed with laboratory-based testing. Guidance is available from the Ministry of Health for more information on rapid antigen testing.

Frequently asked questions

What is the rapid antigen testing?
  • Rapid antigen testing (aka rapid antigen screening) is available for asymptomatic individuals who are part of a workplace or setting that is participating in the Provincial Antigen Screening Program.
  • Rapid testing should be used as a screening tool only for asymptomatic individuals and should not be used for diagnosis of acute COVID-19 infection. 
  • Rapid testing does not replace public health measures such as symptom screening, physical distancing, masking and hand hygiene in the workplace.
  • Rapid testing does not prevent someone from getting COVID-19.
Can rapid testing diagnose someone with COVID-19 infection?
  • Although the test can quickly identify potentially contagious individuals, any positive results from rapid testing must be confirmed with laboratory-based testing.
  • An individual who is currently symptomatic or a contact of a confirmed case should be directed to their healthcare provider, to an assessment centre, or participating licensed community lab to obtain a diagnostic test instead of a rapid screening test.
What type of rapid antigen testing is available?
  • Currently, the rapid antigen testing being conducted using the Abbott PanbioTM test. It is the test that the Government of Ontario is providing to select employers.
  • Although rapid antigen tests may improve accessibility to testing and help alleviate the burden on labs, it does not replace the gold standard of lab-based testing.
  • The Eastern Ontario Regional Laboratory Association (EORLA) offers training and advice around quality assurance for sites implementing rapid testing using Abbott PanBioTM
  • For more information, please contact rapidcovtestquestions@eorla.ca.
How does it work?
  • The Abbott PanbioTM rapid antigen test uses a nasal swab. The antigen test looks for proteins from the COVID-19 virus. Results are available in about 15 to 20 minutes, at the same site the sample is taken.
  • This test may be useful for repeated screening of asymptomatic people in high-risk settings, such as staff, volunteers, residents or visitors in long-term care homes.
  • Visit Abbott Panbio website to learn more on how this test works.
  • A rapid antigen test can be performed anywhere (i.e. on-site, at the place of employment) by a health professional and does not require shipping a specimen to a lab for processing.
What is the Provincial Antigen Screening Program?
  • The objective of the Provincial Antigen Screening Program is to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and to support essential and vulnerable workplaces to safely stay open.  
  • Through the program, rapid antigen tests will be distributed to employers in priority settings, to enhance existing routine screening measures for asymptomatic employees. 
  • Rapid antigen screening does not replace existing workplace infection prevention and control measures.  

How do workplaces participate in this program?

  • To participate in the rapid testing program, the workplace needs to contact the Ministry of Health or their respective ministries to inquire about participation.
  • Partner ministries will reach out to prioritized sectors to confirm interest and participation. Employers can apply to this program by responding directly to their ministry’s invitation.  
  • For employers who aren’t prioritized for rapid testing at this point in time, the province will continue to assess settings based on risk, vulnerability, and impact to Ontario’s economy. The province will look to deploy additional rapid tests based on the available supply and overall pandemic response.  
  • Regardless of participation in the Provincial Antigen Screening Program, anyone who falls within the current Provincial Testing Guidance can continue to receive a free test for COVID-19 at assessment centres, participating pharmacies and community labs and can visit Ontario.ca/covidtest to find a testing location and for eligibility criteria to be tested. 

What are the responsibilities for the workplace to conduct this testing?

  • Workplaces that participate in this program assume any operational, medical, and/or legal responsibilities relating to this initiative.
  • All rapid tests must be performed by certain regulated health professionals that are specifically exempt from the licensing requirements of the Laboratory and Specimen Collection Centre Licensing Act (LSCCLA).
  • Workplaces should have a procedure in place to provide follow up on test results.
  • Workplaces should have plans in place to respond, should any individuals be exposed to or diagnosed with COVID-19.  For example, how they will follow public health guidance for handling a presumptive positive case and require that the employee receive a laboratory PCR test within 24 hours.  
  • All test results must be uploaded into the Ontario Laboratory Information System (OLIS) if performed by a licensed laboratory.
  • Please review guidance from the Ministry of Health for more information about participating in this program.
 Are there any limitations to rapid antigen testing?
  • Prior to initiating the program at the worksite, the workplace needs to inform Ottawa Public Health (OPH) that they have been approved by the Ministry of Health and will be participating in the program.
  • The workplace must also have processes in place to report all positive results from the testing to OPH.
  • Further, workplaces must cooperate with OPH in the event of a potential workplace exposure of COVID-19 or an outbreak investigation.

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