There are 5,000 rapid tests packed in boxes at the Niagara-on-the-Lake Chamber of Commerce office, waiting to be picked up by local business owners in the coming days and weeks.
They will be able to use them to test themselves and their employees for COVID-19, receiving results in 15 minutes or less.
The goal of the program is to identify asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic cases of COVID-19 in the workplace that might otherwise be missed, helping to curb the spread in the workplace, at home and around the community, says NOTL Chamber of Commerce president Eduardo Lafforgue.
Almost 2,000 tests have been ordered and are ready for pickup, he says, with most businesses ordering one or two boxes of 25 tests in each box.
More than 230 businesses have already signed up for the program, with more expected in the coming weeks.
With a negative result, employers and employees will know they can carry on their business without the risk of infecting others, and that they are safe to go home to their families.
A positive result must be reported for a follow-up by public health, to confirm the finding and carry out the necessary contact tracing.
Jordon Williams, founder of Lahava Magazine, with a staff of four, was one of the first to pick up a box of rapid tests at the chamber office Tuesday. He has been given a rapid test before when visiting a relative in a long-term care home, he says, and he was impressed by how quick and easy it was, and the level of comfort it provides.
He will use the tests to help keep his employees and the community at large stay safe, he explains.
“The kits make good business sense,” says Williams. “I see them as an opportunity to be a good corporate citizen, and also to provide peace of mind for everyone involved.”
He could be asymptomatic and unknowingly have COVID, and this test would prevent him from spreading it to others.
“We have so much economic fragility right now. It’s on all of us as NOTL businesses to ensure that everyone is safe and healthy, so that we can have a faster recovery. My employees are very receptive to the idea. It’s an easy way to keep everyone safe,” he says. “It’s so accessible, it’s a no-brainer.
“To me, it really feels like doing a good thing for all of us, the people we work with, our families, and our community.”
Monique Landry of the Old Winery Restaurant was also at the chamber office Tuesday picking up testing kits. “I have some employees, younger ones, who are reluctant to get vaccinated,” she says. “I’m double vaccinated now, and a lot of my management staff have had their first vaccination. I don’t want to lose any staff by telling them they have to be vaccinated. So I want to use the kits in a way that will keep everyone safe.”
The program was organized and tests supplied free of charge thanks to the federal and provincial governments, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and the Ontario Chamber through its Chambers Network, says Lafforgue, and is expected to continue for about two months.
When the idea was first hatched to provide these tests to small and medium-sized businesses, the local chamber was one of 28 involved to help work through the process. More have come on board, and others will join the effort in the coming weeks.
Changes have been made since the beginning of the discussions, says Lafforgue, who has been working to iron out any issues that have arisen, and more changes could be made in the future, but the NOTL Chamber began handing out boxes of tests Tuesday based on the current regulations.
Each business participating must appoint one person to pick up the tests. That person will be shown a video explaining how to administer it, says Lafforgue, and will also be responsible for reporting matters.
The tests are being provided through the StaySafe rapid antigen workplace screening portal.
More than 760,000 rapid test kits have already been shipped to the 28 chambers that were the first to participate.
The StaySafe COVID-19 program has a portal for learning about and ordering the tests, through chambers of commerce, but businesses do not have to be chamber members to participate.
The NOTL chamber has put aside two days, Tuesdays and Thursdays, for 15-minute appointments to pick up the tests and view the instruction video, says Lafforgue.
Once the tests are ordered through the StaySafe portal, there is a schedule showing openings for appointments that can be booked online.
With files from Mike Balsom.