(Jean-Michel Cloutier/Radio-Canada - image credit)
Fearing the presence of a more contagious COVID-19 variant, public health officials in Quebec City have closed down a primary school in Cap-Rouge, a suburb on the west side of Quebec City.
The local public health authority, the CIUSSS de la Capitale-Nationale, is seeking to test all 283 students and more than 50 staff members at Marguerite-d'Youville primary school within the next 48 hours.
Dr. André Dontigny, the local public health director, said there is "at least" one suspected case, and indicated it could have come from a parent that had tested positive for a variant strain.
In those situations, he said, "we don't [yet] have test results for the children, but they become critical contacts in the school environment," he said.
Three classes at Marguerite-d'Youville primary school, which runs from kindergarten to Grade 6, had been shut down since Feb. 9 because of positive cases, Dontigny said. All 14 classes at the school are now closed.
The three coronavirus "variants of concern," first identified in the United Kingdom, South Africa and Brazil, are a focus of public health officials because they spread more easily, may cause more severe illness and because current vaccines may be less effective against them.
A few dozen cases have so far been detected in Quebec, and a few hundred in Canada.
'Calm before the storm'
The more aggressive procedures public health departments are taking against variants in schools — such as rapid shutdowns and increased testing — are welcome, said Heidi Yetman, the president of the Quebec Provincial Association of Teachers, which represents 8,000 English-language teachers.
But she said she worries we're in "the calm before the storm" and that variant cases in schools will increase.
"A variant that spreads like this, it's going to spread really fast inside a building like a school," where there are closed rooms and frequent close contact, she said. "So that's really concerning for us. We're really worried that the variant will start spreading throughout schools and we'll see more and more closures."
Dontigny said they were awaiting test results Saturday that will show whether one of the variants of concern is indeed present.
He said staffing had been expanded at local facilities to ensure testing and screening happened promptly, and that screening any positive cases that emerge among the staff and students being tested this weekend for the variants should take 24 hours.
Students and staff must remain in isolation for the time being.
Earlier this month, public health authorities in Montreal closed down both the primary and secondary schools at Collège Stanislas, a private school in Outremont, after an outbreak in which some of the cases were found to involve the variant known as B117, first detected in the U.K.