A first-of-its-kind program will make free, self-administered rapid antigen screening available to employees of small- and medium-sized businesses in Waterloo Region to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

The StaySafe model, designed and piloted in Waterloo Region, will be developed into a playbook to enable any region in Canada to quickly launch similar programs.

“These tests are an important frontline tool to help isolate cases of COVID-19 in the workplace before they spread,” said Waterloo MP Bardish Chagger, federal Minister of Diversity and Inclusion and Youth.

Chagger made the announcement today along with representatives from the Ontario government and community partners from Waterloo Region.

The StaySafe pilot received a $430,000 investment from the Safe Restart Agreement, a $19-billion federal commitment to help provinces and territories safely restart their economies and make the country more resilient to COVID-19 surges.

StaySafe is a broad partnership made possible by funding from federal, provincial and municipal governments and support from business and community organizations including local hospitals, BIAs, Communitech, United Way Waterloo Region, YMCA Three Rivers, the KW Multicultural Centre, the Cambridge and North Dumfries Community Foundation, and others.

“Today is an example of what we can do when the people of Ontario and people of Canada come together,” said Iain Klugman, CEO of Communitech and a Strategic Advisor to Health Canada on COVID-19 testing in workplaces. “This truly is a collaborative effort that was born in Waterloo Region and we hope will have an impact right across the country.”

Screening with rapid tests provides an extra layer of defence against the spread of the virus by identifying people who are not showing symptoms of infection but may be carrying COVID-19 into their workplaces and communities.

This approach will allow people to self-swab using a rapid antigen screening under the supervision of a trained person. This method will help reduce administrative costs and be faster and more efficient. If the screening yields a presumptive positive result, the individual is urged to seek confirmation through a more definitive polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test.

The StaySafe program in Waterloo Region has two components. 

The first involves rapid screen buses – three Grand River Transit buses retrofitted to serve as mobile rapid-screening facilities. These buses will travel throughout Cambridge, Kitchener and Waterloo, each setting up in a single location for a day. Employees at essential workplaces are invited to get screened, wait about 15 minutes for a result and, if negative, get on with their day.

Organizers aim to conduct 3,000 rapid tests per week at the mobile location sites.

The second component involves providing businesses in Waterloo Region with rapid screening kits for employees to self-administer in the workplace.

Organized by the Greater Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber of Commerce, the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce and Communitech, the kits will be packaged by volunteers for pickup by businesses.

Businesses can order up to a two-week supply, based on twice-weekly screening of their employees. A designate from each business will be required to attend the pickup site, where they’ll receive video training to properly supervise the screening process and safely dispose of used kits.

Businesses can find out more at www.chambercheck.ca

“By expanding rapid testing to small- and medium-sized businesses and making it easier to administer, we will be able to keep people working and safe,” said Vic Fedeli, Minister of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade. “These measures are essential to further protect Ontario’s workforce as we work together towards a swift recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, a stronger and more resilient province.”

Prabmeet Sarkaria, the province’s Associate Minister of Small Business and Red Tape Reduction, said small businesses have been hit hard by the pandemic and that rapid antigen screening is just one more way to help stop the spread of COVID-19 so that businesses and the economy can begin to thrive again.

“It’s about keeping essential businesses open while also limiting the spread of COVID-19 and making sure we don’t let our guard down,” he said. “These are going to be businesses such as hair salons, gyms, restaurants and many other service providers that help us manage our daily lives and are central to our community, our economy and, truly, our way of life.”

For more information, please visit the StaySafe website.