Instead of the typical flurry of afterschool activity, the schoolyard at Dr. J.E. Davey Elementary School was empty after the bell time on Thursday afternoon.
Students at the central Hamilton school, which has a population of about 550, are learning remotely for two weeks amid a COVID variant-linked outbreak.
In total, 19 people — 17 students and two staff — have tested positive for COVID-19 since March 15. In the last few days alone, eight cases were reported among students.
“We are concerned with the situation at Dr. Davey as we are in all the cases,” Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board spokesperson Shawn McKillop said in an email to The Spectator.
The school closed to in-person learning on March 22 — first for one week, then two. The board says the school will reopen for in-person learning on April 6.
“The school shifted to remote learning for operational reasons, not because of concerns for transmission,” McKillop said. “We know this has been a difficult time for staff, but ... their support and leadership during (this) time as the school transitioned from in-person to remote has been appreciated.”
More than 50 per cent of the school’s students come from lower-income households and more than 50 per cent have a language other than English as their first, according to the Ministry of Education.
Data shows that Hamilton’s poorer, racialized neighbourhoods have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic.
Both the school board and Hamilton public health say “there is no indication that health and safety measures were not in place.”
After weeks of remote learning, schools in Hamilton reopened for in-person learning on Feb. 8 with enhanced health and safety measures in place.
Lab-confirmed polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing was conducted at Dr. Davey on March 27 for students and staff in isolation and on March 28 non-isolating students and staff and in-school child care and recreation. No positive cases were reported as a result of this testing.
Voluntary asymptomatic testing will be available to Dr. Davey students and staff at Bernie Custis Secondary School on April 7.
In an email to The Spectator, Hamilton public health spokesperson James Berry said again that the COVID situation in schools “reflects what is happening in the community.”
Berry said public health “has seen evidence of siblings of cases expose their respective cohort” in Hamilton schools.
“This is why it is critical for all students and school staff to follow public health measures at home and school to help protect their loved ones and school communities,” he said.
Dr. Davey is one of 14 Hamilton schools — six public, six Catholic and two French schools — currently in outbreak. About half are linked to variants of concern.
In March, Hamilton schools reported more than 300 cases of the virus, the vast majority in the last two weeks. This month’s numbers are more than double the previous record of 115 cases in December.
“Respiratory viruses are easily transmitted,” said Dr. Martha Fulford, infectious disease specialist at McMaster Children’s Hospital. “What we need to do is investigate any outbreaks to determine where the cases have occurred and to see whether there are any lessons to be learned.”
Fulford said outbreaks are expected, and our “knee-jerk reaction” shouldn’t be to shut schools down or assume they are unsafe.
“Our reaction should be to remember that COVID, including the new variants, very, very seldom results in severe disease in children and that our focus should be on ensuring the overall health and well-being of our children,” she said. “If an outbreak occurs, our response should be to figure out how it happened and put in measures to try to prevent it from happening again.”
Kate McCullough, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator