New COVID-19 cases, but no outbreak at Dunnville school

·3 min read

Hours after the return of in-class learning at Thompson Creek Elementary School in Dunnville, the Grand Erie District School Board announced two COVID-19 cases within the school community.

But board spokesperson Kim Newhouse said the affected individuals were diagnosed before the school reopened Monday and were not in the building “during their period of communicability.”

“The individuals had symptoms and got tested prior to our board’s return to in-class instruction. Therefore, they were never in the building,” Newhouse told The Spectator.

“Generally speaking, if someone was in the building during their period of communicability, there would be close contacts identified and likely a class cohort would be sent home to self-isolate.”

In this case, the health unit did not identify any close contacts at Thompson Creek, where classes continued without interruption on Tuesday.

Newhouse declined to say whether the Thompson Creek cases were among staff or students, citing privacy concerns. The two patients are currently in self-isolation, along with any members of their households.

Thompson Creek is one of seven Haldimand-Norfolk public schools to have been outfitted with new air purification systems to complement their existing HVAC systems.

The systems were also installed at Delhi Public School, Lakewood Elementary in Port Dover, Lynndale Heights in Simcoe, Mapleview Elementary in Dunnville, River Heights School in Caledonia, and Valley Heights Secondary School in Langton.

Newhouse said filters are changed every three months, and while reviewing all HVAC systems in September, board staff also made sure classrooms had working windows to allow for ventilation.

Students and staff are required to complete COVID-19 screening each day, and Grand Erie trustees passed a motion requiring kindergarten students to wear masks in class and on schools buses, on top of the provincial policy extending mandatory mask use to Grades 1 to 3.

But the provincial NDP says more measures should be in place to prevent schools from becoming sources of transmission, including a class cap of 15 students, “comprehensive” in-school testing, and paid sick leave for parents so they can keep children with potential COVID-19 symptoms at home.

Haldimand-Norfolk medical officer of health Dr. Shanker Nesathurai is not in favour of asymptomatic testing in schools, saying broad testing could unearth false positives as the lab detects remnants of the virus that are not contagious.

“Testing should only be used when it serves a strategic public health purpose,” Nesathurai said. “Looking at the burden of COVID at schools right now, I would not be inclined to recommend asymptomatic testing at this point. That might change down the road.”

Nesathurai said having schools open “serves an important societal goal,” especially for elementary school students who can find virtual learning particularly challenging.

He endorsed grouping students into cohorts to prevent the virus from spreading within schools, but acknowledged the strategy is complicated by rural bus routes that not only combine cohorts but have students from various schools and even different boards mingling on a daily basis.

J.P. Antonacci, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator