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The three-ply cloth and N95 masks provided by the provincial government are photographed at Willows Walk Public School in Whitby, Ont., on Jan., 14, 2022.Christopher Katsarov/The Globe and Mail

Staff at the Toronto District School Board worked through the weekend to prepare COVID-19 rapid antigen tests for secondary-school teachers and education workers ahead of Monday’s return to in-person learning, with more shipments still expected to arrive.

A TDSB spokesman said the board only received its first tests for secondary-school staff in the middle of last week, and is still waiting for more supplies to arrive on Monday. Secondary staff will each receive two tests as they return to schools. Secondary students received tests before the break.

“The TDSB received the first shipment of rapid antigen tests on Wednesday night. Since that time and throughout the weekend, staff have been assembling deliveries for distribution to our 583 schools,” Ryan Bird said.

Brandon Zoras, vice-principal of Westview Centennial Secondary School in northwest Toronto, said the shipment delays meant he spent last Friday breaking open five-pack boxes of rapid antigen tests, placing two of them in small plastic bags the school board purchased and getting them ready to distribute to staff Monday morning.

He used gloves and a table wiped with antiviral disinfectant to handle the tests, which are each wrapped in plastic, and wore an N95 mask throughout the process. Poor planning and last-minute announcements from the provincial government led him to spend hours on the task, Mr. Zoras said.

“I am not surprised that I had to do this. During this pandemic, many staff in education from all employee groups, students and parents had to bear the burden of this pandemic,” Mr. Zoras said.

Federal authorities are aiming to disperse 140 million rapid tests to the provinces by the end of January, after the dramatic rise in COVID-19 cases led some provinces to limit the more accurate polymerase chain reaction tests to health care workers and high-risk individuals.

The TDSB said staff will continue the work this week, when more tests are scheduled to arrive.

“Shipments of tests are expected to be made throughout the day on Monday to all sites where school staff and/or school volunteers will still have to further assemble them into individual two-test packages,” Mr. Bird said.

Since the packages of rapid antigen tests only come with one set of instructions, Mr. Zoras said photocopied and digital instructions were being sent to staff. The packages also only come with one test tube stand, which is required to hold up a rapid test upright as it is completed.

Mr. Zoras said there were do-it-yourself options that he’d seen online to create a test tube stand, such as using Play-Doh to create a mould or using a small cup.

On Twitter, some parents expressed concern about school staff opening packages of the tests at home and not having all the equipment in the boxes.

However, infectious-disease specialists said they didn’t see a problem with the practice.

Gerald Evans, chair of the division of infectious diseases at Queen’s University in Kingston, said his concern was that staff were only getting two tests.

“We know from our experience in health care that some staff will employ the test even if they’re well, often as a reassurance, even though that is not a correct strategy,” Dr. Evans said. “If that was the case, they might quickly run out of tests to use when they actually need to.”

Not all school boards are limiting tests to just two for each staff member, however. In an e-mail, a spokesperson for Ontario’s District School Board of Niagara said staff there were would each receive the full package of five tests. Kim Sweeney said staff at the schools also received two tests before the winter break.

In a statement, Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce said the province is continuing to work on acquiring more rapid tests, with one million tests expected to arrive in the coming week.

“We have and will remain focused on investing in quality air ventilation, more rapid tests and [personal protective equipment],” Mr. Lecce said.

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