With the second wave of COVID-19 confirmed by Premier Doug Ford and with record numbers of new cases being diagnosed every day, the Haliburton Kawartha Pine Ridge District Health Unit has clearly laid out their protocols regarding school closures.
Chandra Tremblay, manager of corporate services, communication and IT for the health unit, was asked via e-mail how many cases of COVID would need to be present to close any of the 68 schools schools that the health unit was responsible for?
“Under the province’s guidance,”Tremblay responded, “a health unit may declare an outbreak in a school if it determines that two or more lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases in students/staff/visitors have been identified in a school with an epidemiological link within a 14-day period where at least one could have reasonably acquired their infection in the school including via transportation and while in before and after school care.”
“It is important to note,” Tremblay continued, “that an outbreak could be declared, and it may impact just one specific class or cohort. This could result in the cohort self-isolating, but the school itself not closed.”
“I think it is important to recognize,” Tremblay added, “that no two cases are exactly the same. As soon as the health unit is notified of a positive case in either a student or staff of a local school, they will be working with the school board and school administrators to get the information needed to conduct case and contact tracing.”
“What happens next is dependent upon what they find,” Tremblay said.
“How many people were in contact with a confirmed case during their infectious period? Is there an epidemiological link between the cases within the school or was someone exposed outside of the school setting?”
When asked who would be consulted before a school was closed, Tremblay shared that consultation will take place between the public health unit, the school board and school administrators.
Tremblay also responded regarding what the protocol would be for a closed school being able to re-open.
Apparently a school outbreak can be declared over when at least 14 days have passed with no evidence of ongoing transmissions that could reasonably be related to exposure in school. Public health will also be monitoring that there are no other ill individuals associated with the initial exposed cohorts, and that all COVID-19 test data has been received from the appropriate labs.
“However,” Tremblay warned, “each situation is different and public health will determine when the outbreak can be declared over in collaboration with school boards and school board officials.”
Tremblay reminded parents to visit the health unit’s website at www.hkpr.on.ca for the protocols being followed in the event of an illness at school. If parents have questions Tremblay encourages them to call HKPR at 1-866-888-4577, extension 5020.