Provincial Antigen Screening Program

Learn about our COVID-19 testing program for organizations and find out about eligibility, training, rapid antigen testing and reporting requirements.

Note

This document is intended for use by anyone receiving free rapid antigen screening 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 screening 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).

What are the key considerations for interpreting test results?

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, results should be interpreted with caution. To enhance the accuracy of test results, rapid antigen screening should be performed multiple times per week. Employees should also continue to adhere to the necessary 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 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 screening 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 test, pending available inventory. 

All participating workplaces are required to agree and adhere to the program terms and conditions (i.e., use the antigen test kits 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 screen 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 antigen tests should not be used to screen patrons, customers and/or the general public (e.g., customers seeking personal care services, general public attending events at large venues). Organizations seeking to screen patrons must privately procure tests.

Organizations privately procuring rapid antigen tests should review and consult the COVID-19: Considerations for Privately Initiated Testing Guidance. 

If organizations are interested in finding companies from which to privately procure rapid antigen tests, they can consult the Antigen Testing Services Directory

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.

For those sites that are interested in contracting a service provider to administer rapid antigen screening, the Antigen Testing Services Directory is available to help identify local service providers. The Antigen Testing Services Directory lists suppliers that attest to being able to provide rapid antigen screening services to support program participants. Services provided by a supplier listed on the Antigen Testing Services Directory are procured and paid for by the workplace or organization contracting the service. The use of the Antigen Testing Services Directory is voluntary.

Organizations can also provide their employees with rapid antigen tests for use at home (self-swabbing), which can help to reduce program implementation costs. 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?

Currently, provincially supported rapid antigen testing is being conducted using several Health Canada approved tests. As more rapid antigen technologies become available for use in the province, additional devices may be deployed as part of the Provincial Antigen Screening Program.

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 screening 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:

  1. Rapid antigen tests must be used in accordance with the COVID-19 Provincial Testing Guidance.
  2. Rapid antigen tests must be used in accordance with Provincial Antigen Screening Program terms and conditions.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Rapid antigen tests should not be used to return employees or individuals to the workplace who should otherwise work from home based on current public health guidance.
  6. 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-screen 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 in their testing kit, 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, increasing the volume of tests that can be completed within a given time frame at the workplace. Unsupervised self-swabbing also enables employees to complete the antigen test at home before they travel to the workplace, and may help reduce implementation challenges associated with onsite testing (e.g., workplaces without a centralized site to test employees).

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 recently 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 kits 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 undertaking 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 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 the COVID-19 Provincial Testing Guidance.