Parents upset by secrecy over cases at MacDonald Drive

·4 min read

MacDonald Drive Elementary in St. John’s is still open in “low-risk” mode despite a report of two positive COVID-19 tests in the school Tuesday, and some parents aren’t happy about it.

Neither the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District (NLESD) nor the Department of Health would confirm the nature of the two cases at MacDonald Drive, but The Telegram has learned that at least one of them is a kindergarten student.

On Wednesday, a parent who didn’t want to be identified said she was told Tuesday to come get her daughter, who’s in kindergarten, and get her tested as she was deemed a close contact. She was given no instructions about her son in Grade 2, but decided to take him out of school as well.

“They didn’t tell me to get him swabbed,” she said on a phone call. “I opted to get him swabbed.”

The woman, a single mother, says she’s now forced to stay home with both children for 14 days while her children isolate and wait for a second test near the end of the isolation period.

“I have to go on unpaid leave because I can’t work from home,” she said.

A father who contacted The Telegram said he and other parents are not impressed with the level of communication coming from officials.

He said his son was not in MacDonald Drive on Friday, when the potential exposure occurred, but was in class Monday with classmates who were eventually all told to go home isolate.

The protocol for schools, as with contact tracing generally, is that parents are not informed unless their child is deemed a close contact. That meant several frustrated parents were forced to compare notes among themselves on social media.

“The only reason I got an update on his class was because I looked for an update from the principal,” the father said. “The communication hasn’t been very forthcoming so (parents) are starting to second guess it.”

Another woman emailed The Telegram to say parents she’s spoken with are upset at an apparent double standard.

“A lot of parents are feeling like the kids are very much being forgotten and treated like they don’t matter when so little is being done to protect them, and then even when cases show up their environment is treated differently than other businesses and public places where people are being told to get tested,” she sad.

Dr. Rosann Seviour, who’s filling in as chief medical officer of health while Dr. Janice Fitzgerald is on vacation, said privacy regulations prevent authorities from more broadly sharing contact tracing information.

Although some parents are keeping their children out of school, the NLESD said Public Health informed them MacDonald Drive can continue operating under low-risk protocols.

“As with other isolated cases of positive COVID-19 cases in school communities, Public Health has provided the district with information which we have, in turn, provided to those who may be directly impacted,” it said in a statement. “At Macdonald Drive Elementary, as with any school where a case(s) has been confirmed, those considered close contacts have been advised to get tested and, in some cases, to self-isolate.”

Meanwhile, New World Academy in Summerford was closed Wednesday after a student received a presumptive positive test for COVID-19.

The Newfoundland and Labrador Eastern School District (NLESD) was advised by Public Health that the school can stay open while contact tracing continued, but NLESD assistant director of programs Dan O’Brien told parents the school would remain closed Wednesday “for operational reasons.”

O’Brien’s note was posted on the school’s Facebook page.

Last week, a case at Laval High School in Placentia was deemed low-risk, and Public Health later reported that subsequent tests found no secondary cases.

Schools in the area around Baie Verte are also affected by an outbreak of COVID-19 at the White Bay Retirement Living seniors facility which has since spread in the community.

Seviour said there are now 42 cases in the area, 17 of them in the personal care home.

The outbreak prompted a return to Alert Level 3 for that region, and a return to high-risk status of the following schools:

• Copper Ridge Academy, Baie Verte;

• Hillside Elementary, La Scie;

• Cape John Collegiate, La Scie; and,

• St. Peter’s Academy, Westport.

Seviour said no cases have been reported in the schools as of Wednesday.

All students in grades 4 and above in the province must wear masks since the mandatory mask mandate was reinstated last week, but high-risk schools also must take further precautions, meaning a return to a cohorts where possible and curtailment of some extracurricular activities.

Peter Jackson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Telegram

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