BARRIE, ONT. -- A new partnership between Chambers of Commerce in Muskoka and Orillia will see free rapid antigen COVID-19 tests provided to small and medium-sized businesses.

The 'Orillia-Muskoka Rapid Antigen Screening Program' is a collaborative effort between Bracebridge, Gravenhurst, Huntsville/Lake of Bays and Muskoka Lakes Chambers of Commerce, along with the Orillia District Chamber of Commerce.

All businesses with fewer than 150 employees in Muskoka and Orillia will qualify for the program, which is meant to serve as an additional tool to eliminate asymptomatic cases of COVID-19 from workplaces.

"This test can detect the protein days before someone is infectious," said Brenda Rhodes, the executive director of the Bracebridge Chamber of Commerce. "This means that if an employer is testing at the recommended two tests per week, and not on back-to-back days, you can drastically reduce the chance of spread in your workplace. This is a powerful and important tool."

A successful pilot project was held in Kitchener-Waterloo and Cambridge. The Orillia-Muskoka program is supported by the provincial and federal governments and is one of the first approved.

"As businesses prepare to reopen, rapid antigen testing will not only help protect workers, but it will also help customers feel confident entering local businesses," says Parry Sound-Muskoka MPP Norman Miller. "I want to thank all four Muskoka area Chambers of Commerce for taking the lead to make sure small and medium-sized businesses in our area can use this valuable tool."

The program's rollout comes on the same day as Shoppers Drug Mart announced rapid antigen tests will be available in all of its locations and Loblaw pharmacies.

"To get through this pandemic, we all need to follow public health guidelines, get vaccinated, and continue testing and screening to stop the spread of COVID-19," said Ashesh Desai, Executive Vice President, Pharmacy and Healthcare, Shoppers Drug Mart.

The tests will be available for anyone who is not exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms and have not been in contact with someone who already tested positive for COVID-19 for a price of $40.