MAPLE RIDGE, B.C. -- Eighty students and staff from Garibaldi Secondary School in Maple Ridge, B.C. have been told to report to a COVID-19 screening centre for rapid testing after potential exposure to a more contagious variant of the virus.

An email was sent to families on Sunday alerting them that someone with a positive COVID-19 test who had been in the school has been identified as a close contact of someone with one of the coronavirus variants.

The test collection centre in Maple Ridge has been closed to the public to allow staff and students requiring the tests to come in.

“They will be tested with our rapid tests which are good for screening and able to test on site, but also will be tested using (polymerase chain reaction testing) because we know that the rapid test can miss positive cases that are asymptomatic in particular,” said provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.

SFU infectious disease modeller Caroline Colijn says it’s heartening to see Fraser Health take the extraordinary step of testing an entire cohort after the potential variant exposure.

“It’s really great to have a use being made of the rapid antigen tests," she said. "They haven’t rolled them out widely."

She’d like to see B.C. follow Ontario’s lead and use rapid testing to screen asymptomatic students and staff at schools, so cases can be detected before they spread.

“Absolutely I think we should consider it strategically,” she said, especially with 18 cases of the variants now detected in B.C.

“If a virus type comes in that has a higher rate (of transmission) it means it will infect more of your contacts, maybe more of your casual contacts, maybe more school contacts. They have seen a lot of school transmission in the U.K., and high rates in young people, especially in high schools,” said Colijn.

Garibaldi student Shayan Saed said he felt uneasy returning to class on Monday.

“Over the weekend, my girlfriend got a bunch of phone calls and stuff from public health saying that she needs to go in and get tested,” Saed told CTV News. “She’s nervous.”