A Barrhaven elementary school in the Ottawa Catholic School Board will be closed for at least 10 days follow an outbreak of COVID-19.
St. Benedict Catholic Elementary School is the first school to be closed due to a COVID-19 outbreak this school year.
In a letter sent to parents dated Tuesday, Ottawa Public Health (OPH) said there is an outbreak affecting several cohorts so the entire school is being closed "out of an abundance of caution."
An outbreak is declared when two people test positive and there is a possibility transmission happened at the school, OPH said.
The school board's COVID-19 dashboard says there are 13 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among students and none among staff.
Parents feel 'powerless' and 'vulnerable'
Claudia Wilson, co-chair of the school's parent council, said there was a mixture of relief and sadness when the school closure was announced after more than a week of learning about an increase in cases and classes shutting down.
"The last day that the school was open ... we were told that half the classrooms that were open were empty because parents were afraid to send their kids to school," said Wilson, who has two children at the school.
"Parents would much rather, when you're in the middle of an outbreak scenario, have their kids at home and know they're safe."
Justin Peter Milley, another co-chair of the parent council, has two sons at the school. He said the situation changed so quickly it was hard for parents to do anything to help with response.
"We're seeing this stuff happening ... but we feel powerless and also vulnerable," Milley said.
He said he hopes the Catholic board and public health improve planning so there can be a quicker and easier transition to online learning should another school have to close.
Katarina Boutros, whose daughter and son tested negative after they were deemed high-risk close contacts, said many parents have serious challenges balancing work and last-minute shifts to at-home schooling with little support.
"It's just a vicious cycle, it just keeps happening over and over," said Boutros, who is starting a new job in a couple of weeks.
OPH has advised parents the duration of the closure could last at least 10 days and they will be informed if cohorts can return earlier.
The letter says only parents and children who have been contacted because they are high-risk contacts are required to isolate, and testing is being prioritized for members of the school community who have been identified as high risk.
School closures a 'rare occurrence'
Vera Etches, Ottawa's medical officer of health, said the focus is getting quick and efficient testing to members of the school community who are symptomatic. Testing is being made available to anyone at St. Benedict.
Etches said more school-aged children are testing positive for COVID-19 this year compared to last fall, but a major reason is more children are going to class.
Etches said she's confident outbreaks that shut down schools will remain an exception.
"This is a rare occurrence," she said. "The number of outbreaks that we're seeing has not kept pace proportionally with the higher number of children testing positive. This suggests that transmission in schools is being limited with the measures in place."
Etches said OPH will continue to review those measures and families will also have to limits their social contacts, especially on the Thanksgiving long weekend.