Rapid testing and masks cut risks to business

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A rapid antigen COVID-19 test. Photo credit: Pique News Magazine/Getty Images

The Ontario economic recovery from COVID-19 has and will continue to be highly dependent upon cooperation and collaboration between business, government and our dependent communities. In countless communities, many organizations have come together to address local issues from COVID.

In Waterloo Region, during the early stages of COVID-19, in March of 2020, the Greater Kitchener Waterloo and Cambridge Chambers of Commerce, Communitech and the Waterloo Economic Development Corporation came together to form the Business and Economic Support Team of Waterloo Region (BESTWR).

The primary purpose was to provide support and direction to local small business during the confusing and challenging initial onset of the global pandemic. We lobbied all levels of government for on-going cash flow programs that have been essential for businesses struggling with lockdowns and restrictions.

These support programs have and continue to be important to support small business as we come out of this lockdown and slowly reopen.

Across Ontario many committees like BESTWR have lobbied for upped mask and rapid test usage for all Ontario businesses and residents. Recently BESTWR was joined by the Waterloo Regional Tourism Marketing Corporation to address the unique challenges facing the local food, hospitality and accommodation sectors that have all been extraordinarily and disproportionately impacted throughout the pandemic.

In April of 2021, the Greater Kitchener Waterloo and Cambridge Chambers of Commerce launched a new pilot program to provide rapid COVID antigen-19 screening kits free of charge to local small businesses. This program was made possible with assistance from our friends at Communitech, as well as the provincial and federal governments. Business owners can place orders for screening kits through the chambercheck.ca website and pick up the requested products at the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce office.

These rapid screening kits, which are administered on-site by employers, are designed to identify positive asymptomatic cases for further follow-up tests by qualified officials. The benefit presented by rapid testing is the ability to cut risks in the workplace which will subsequently expedite the reopening process. This is critical even as vaccines are ramping up because of variants of concern and that over 50 per cent of transmission comes from asymptomatic carriers.

In Waterloo Region, the BESTWR organization was pleased to receive a donation of 1.5 million medical grade ASTM level 3 masks from Eclipse Automation. These masks are made available to local businesses and residents as another vital tool for cutting risks and keeping people safe.

We are proud to have piloted this program with our friends at the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce. To date we have over 3,200 businesses from across the region registered and have distributed over 300,000 screening kits and masks to them.

Most importantly, over 100 communities are doing the same and have distributed over 2.4 million province wide.

As the Ontario economy gradually reopens and vaccinations ramp up over the upcoming weeks, rapid screening and upgraded masks will be increasingly important to cut the transmission risks for employees, clients and customers. Another spike in new cases, particularly with the predictions of highly infectious variants spreading among the provincial population, does not need to happen if we work together and use these tools.

Chambers of Commerce across the province are working to help our communities and all businesses.
Whether you are in the Niagara Region or Waterloo Region – reach out to them. We are here to help. Remember to stay positive, test negative, and get vaccinated. Because we are stronger together.

Ian McLean is President and CEO of the Greater Kitchener Waterloo Chamber of Commerce and is the host of ‘Business to Business’ on 570 News. McLean served as a City of Waterloo councillor from 2003 to 2010, chairing the finance and strategic planning committee during his tenure.

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