Regina's Catholic and public school divisions recommend 2 tests for exposed students

·3 min read
Regina school divisions are asking students to get tested for COVID-19 twice if exposed to a positive case. Letters sent to families recommend an initial test and then another on Day 10 of a student's 14-day quarantine. (CBC /Radio-Canada - image credit)
Regina school divisions are asking students to get tested for COVID-19 twice if exposed to a positive case. Letters sent to families recommend an initial test and then another on Day 10 of a student's 14-day quarantine. (CBC /Radio-Canada - image credit)

Students in Regina's Catholic and public school systems are being asked to take two COVID-19 tests if they are identified as a close contact of a positive case.

This change to protocol comes amid growing numbers of variants of concern (VOC) in Regina, which currently accounts for 90 per cent of the province's variant COVID cases.

Regina has 122 of 136 provincial VOC cases, which are 70 per cent more transmissible than the original strain, according to the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA).

This past weekend both the Regina Catholic School Division (RCSD) and the Regina Public Schools (RPS) changed the directions provided to families when a student is identified as a close contact of a COVID-19 positive case.

The new letter instructs families to get their child tested immediately upon learning they were in contact with a positive case and again on Day 10 of the mandatory 14-day isolation period.

Prior to the changes, students were told to isolate, but not instructed to get tested if asymptomatic.

"It is very good to see this increased testing of people who are potentially exposed," said Anne Huang, Saskatchewan's former deputy medical health officer.

She said the precautions taken with the original COVID strain, including social distancing and the use of cloth masks, might not be sufficient with the variants.

"What might have been a low-risk setting and safe in the past is now a much higher risk setting for exposure and for transmission to occur."

Both of Regina's school divisions said the decision to recommend two COVID tests for close contacts of positive cases was made in consultation with Public Health.

"For our schools they're treating all of the cases as though it is a variant, so they're being extra cautious," said Twyla West, spokesperson for the RCSD.

West said that since the start of March there have been about 26 COVID-19 cases within the RCSD that resulted in a classroom closure. The SHA doesn't share if any of those cases are confirmed variants and did not respond to requests for an interview.

However, West said case numbers at Regina schools have been increasing.

"At one point I was trying to keep up, but I just can't keep up," West said.

At a Tuesday news conference, Saskatchewan Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab explained what a 70 per cent increase in the rate of transmission looks like.

He said one positive case of the original COVID strain could be expected to infect three out of 20 people at a daycare. The B117 variant strain, first detected in the U.K., would be expected to infect 10 out of 20 people.

He said the rate of transmission in school settings is currently 11 per cent.

Terry Lazarou, spokesperson for Regina's public school division, said there has been an uptick in COVID-19 cases in the RPS recently.

"We're not being forced to close schools because there's defined outbreaks. So while there's a larger number of cases than in the past few weeks, it's not forcing us to close schools."

Lazarou said that the RPS recently enhanced its ventilation systems in all school buildings, increasing air flow and "air scrubbing."

"So we're doing everything we can that's in our power to minimize the risk to our students and staff."

He said the SHA doesn't provide information regarding strains of COVID cases, but said there were 20 cases confirmed in the RPS division last week.

Shahab said health measures in schools seem to be working.

"All the layers of protection in schools keep preventing outbreaks," he said.

On Monday, Davison elementary school in Melville and Yorkton Regional High School moved all of their students, about 1,000, online after individual COVID variant cases at each school were confirmed.