Learn about our COVID-19 testing program for organizations and find out about eligibility, training, rapid antigen testing and reporting requirements.
This document is intended for use by anyone receiving free rapid antigen tests from the government of Ontario through the Provincial Antigen Screening Program. This is a living document and includes guidance supported by currently available evidence. As evidence evolves, this document will be updated accordingly.
Individual ministries may have sector specific policies or directives related to rapid antigen testing, which must be considered in addition to the program information below.
In the instance where there is a discrepancy between program documents and provincial guidance, the COVID-19 Provincial Testing Guidance should always be considered the authoritative source.
1. Program overview
What is the Provincial Antigen Screening Program?
The Provincial Antigen Screening Program provides organizations access to rapid antigen tests that add an additional safety measure in workplaces to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace, break the chain of transmission for COVID-19, and support business continuity. Through the program, rapid antigen tests are distributed for use in accordance with the COVID-19 Provincial Testing Guidance.
What is a rapid antigen test?
A rapid antigen test is an easy-to-use point-of-care test that looks for proteins from the COVID-19 virus, and does not require shipping a specimen to a lab for processing. Results are available in 15 to 20 minutes.
A rapid antigen test can be performed anywhere (i.e., on-site, at the place of employment, or at home) by a person on themselves, a health professional or trained individual (‘self-screening’, see Who Can Perform a Rapid Antigen Test?). Rapid antigen tests can be self-administered through both nares, combined swabbing of the mouth and both nares, deep nasal swabbing (both nares) or anterior nasal swabbing (both nares). Combined swabbing of the mouth and both nares may increase test sensitivity compared with nasal sampling alone.
Information on when to use a rapid antigen test can be found in the COVID-19 Provincial Testing Guidance document.
What are the key considerations for interpreting test results?
For information on what to do following a positive or negative test result, visit the COVID-19 testing and treatment website.
Rapid antigen tests are less sensitive than PCR (molecular) tests that are performed at designated testing centres. As such, rapid antigen tests may yield some false negative test results (i.e., a result that indicates the individual is not infected with COVID-19 when in fact they are), as well as some false positive test results (i.e., a result that indicates the individual is infected with COVID-19 when in fact they are not).
When used as a screening tool, RAT results should be interpreted with caution. To enhance the accuracy of test results, rapid antigen testing should be performed multiple times per week. Employees may also continue to adhere to COVID-19 infection prevention and control measures, such as appropriate distancing, use of PPE, and hand washing, to reduce the risk of infection.
Information on rapid antigen tests including screening frequency and other use cases can be found in the COVID-19 Provincial Testing Guidance document.
How have rapid antigen tests been used in workplaces in Ontario to date?
Ontario has been implementing rapid antigen testing in a variety of workplaces since November 2020.
Who is eligible to participate in this Program?
Any organization that is permitted to open as per current public health measures and where individuals must be physically present on site is eligible to participate in the program.
Interested organizations can visit ontario.ca/testingonsite to determine eligibility.
What does participation in the Program mean for my workplace?
If eligible to participate in this program, the government will provide employers with free rapid antigen tests, pending available inventory.
All participating workplaces are required to agree and adhere to the program terms and conditions (i.e., use the rapid antigen tests in accordance with provincial guidance) in order to continue receiving a supply of rapid antigen tests and to avoid having their participation in the program terminated by the province. Unless there are provincial policies that require employees of specific sectors to complete testing to attend work, participation in the Provincial Antigen Screening Program is voluntary.
The free rapid antigen tests distributed through this program are to be used only for Ontario-based employers and must be used within the duration of the program (i.e., tests cannot be saved for future use). Tests must be used on an employer’s own employees or other identified groups; an employer cannot distribute or sell tests to any third party (e.g., a client company) or charge for the administration of a test. This does not preclude employers from using a contracted agency to administer the tests to their employees. Some settings have permission for use on non-employees through the program (e.g., students in post-secondary institutions), but government-provided rapid antigen tests should not be used to test patrons, customers and/or the general public (e.g., customers seeking personal care services, general public attending events at large venues). Organizations seeking to test patrons must privately procure tests. The general public can access free rapid antigen tests at over 3,200 participating grocery and pharmacy retailers.
What are the financial considerations for my workplace?
The provincial government provides participating organizations with the appropriate number of rapid antigen tests to meet sector-specific testing guidelines, for free, depending on available inventory. Participating employers will assume all additional program implementation costs (e.g., human resource expenses, supplies, and the implementation of physical safety measures).
Participating sites may work with a privately-contracted service delivery partner to administer the Provincial Antigen Screening Program, but are not required to.
Services provided by a supplier are procured and paid for by the workplace or organization contracting the service.
Organizations can proactively provide their employees with rapid antigen tests for use at home (self-swabbing), which can help to reduce program implementation costs and ensure employees aren’t attending the workplace to access tests when they are symptomatic. For more information on self-swabbing, please see the Benefits of self-swabbing section of this document.
What type of rapid antigen tests will my workplace receive?
All rapid antigen tests distributed through the Provincial Antigen Screening Program are Health Canada approved.
All available rapid antigen tests being used in Ontario operate and perform similarly; they have comparable performance specifications such as sensitivity, accuracy, storage requirements and shelf life, and they can all be used as visually-read devices.
How does my workplace receive tests once accepted into the Program?
Approved workplaces will be provided with information on how to order rapid antigen tests once they have completed the intake process through ontario.ca/testingonsite.
Participating employers, as well as employees testing at home will need to be able to safely store any rapid antigen tests received. Storage information on specific rapid antigen test types can be found in the COVID-19 Rapid Antigen Testing: Onboarding Guide.
Will my workplace receive training?
Training materials are available on the Ontario Health website.
For more information on self-swabbing, please see the Benefits of self-swabbing section of this document.
2. How does my workplace use rapid antigen tests?
How should a rapid antigen test be used in this program?
Participating employers must adhere to the following parameters of use throughout the program:
- Rapid antigen tests must be used in accordance with the COVID-19 Provincial Testing Guidance.
- Rapid antigen tests must be used in accordance with Provincial Antigen Screening Program terms and conditions.
- Rapid antigen tests do not replace infection prevention and control measures such as symptom screening, appropriate distancing, use of PPE, and hand-hygiene activities. Rapid antigen testing is not required under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, 1990, nor does it replace any duties under the Occupational Health and Safety Act to take all precautions reasonable in the circumstances to protect the health and safety of workers. These measures are essential to prevent the transmission of COVID-19, whereas rapid antigen testing can only identify individuals after transmission has occurred.
- Individuals who receive a positive result using a rapid antigen test should review ‘What your test result means’ and follow the Management of Cases and Contacts of COVID-19 in Ontario.
- Rapid antigen tests should not be used to return employees or individuals to the workplace who should otherwise stay home based on current public health guidance. A workplace that chooses to set up an on-site rapid antigen testing clinic can elect to follow any workflow/process that is operationally feasible and follows appropriate IPAC and health and safety protocols.
Who can perform a rapid antigen test?
Rapid antigen tests can be performed by health professionals or any trained individual (including self-swabbing). Any individual is considered trained when they have consulted the appropriate training materials. Instructions on how to self-swab with a variety of rapid antigen test types can be found on the Ontario Health website, and may be consulted, in addition to the manufacturer’s instructions that come with the tests.
Benefits of self-swabbing
Specimen collection for rapid antigen tests may be done voluntarily by the person being tested (‘self-swabbing’). Any individual doing self-swabbing should follow the directions included with their rapid antigen test, or consult the self-swabbing training resource developed by Ontario Health in collaboration with Public Health Ontario.
Individuals and organizations are under no obligation to conduct rapid antigen testing using self-swabbing (supervised or unsupervised); use of self-swabbing (supervised or unsupervised) is to be done only on a voluntary basis.
Self-swabbing reduces barriers to rapid antigen testing by allowing individuals to collect their own specimen at home.
How does my Workplace Dispose of Used Rapid Antigen Tests?
Waste generated from rapid antigen tests is considered a hazardous waste under the Environmental Protection Act. The Ontario government made amendments to the regulation governing hazardous waste management to exempt waste from these tests from collecting, storage and transportation requirements as long as the waste is disposed in Ontario. This waste must still be disposed of at a waste facility approved to handle biomedical waste. In addition, those collecting, storing or transporting these tests should follow Ontario’s guidance on the Safe Handling and Management of Rapid Antigen COVID-19 Testing Waste.
For waste generated from at-home rapid antigen testing the regulatory requirements for managing the hazardous waste under the Environmental Protection Act do not apply. Instead, persons using at-home rapid antigen tests should consult their local municipality’s by-laws on the proper disposal of this waste to ensure it can be disposed of with the household trash.
Unused or expired tests cannot be returned to any central warehouses due to quality control and infection prevention control considerations. If employers withdraw from the program, they should still make all reasonable efforts to use rapid antigen tests on hand. Information on manufacturer expiry date extensions can be found on the Ontario Health website.
3. Program reporting requirements
Participating organizations are not required to report any data to the provincial government.
What are the reporting requirements in the case of a positive rapid antigen test result?
Positive rapid antigen test results do not need to be reported to a public health unit except if they are associated with a suspected or confirmed outbreak in a highest risk setting and are not confirmed with a PCR test.
Further information on reporting requirements when a positive result is detected on a rapid antigen test can be found in Management of Cases and Contacts of COVID-19 in Ontario.