Testing underway as Watson Lake grapples with COVID-19 school outbreak

·3 min read
Johnson Elementary School in Watson Lake, Yukon. All Grade 4 students at the school are being tested for COVID-19 after Yukon officials declared an outbreak in the class on Monday. Three cases are associated with the outbreak, and there is no indication of spread beyond the one class. (Roxanne Coles - image credit)
Johnson Elementary School in Watson Lake, Yukon. All Grade 4 students at the school are being tested for COVID-19 after Yukon officials declared an outbreak in the class on Monday. Three cases are associated with the outbreak, and there is no indication of spread beyond the one class. (Roxanne Coles - image credit)

All Grade 4 students at Johnson Elementary School in Watson Lake are being tested for COVID-19 after Yukon's acting chief medical officer of health declared an outbreak in the class on Monday.

Dr. Catherine Elliott said it's the first school outbreak in the Yukon, meaning it's the first time transmission has occurred within a classroom.

There are three confirmed cases associated with the outbreak so far, but Elliott said more might be discovered as testing continues in the coming days.

"We've done a lot more testing, both over the weekend and into this week, and we have not seen any more cases in this classroom, which is a good sign that ongoing transmission within the classroom may be limited," said Elliott.

"I wouldn't be surprised if we have one or two more cases within this classroom, but we're not seeing any more cases at this time."

Jackie Hong/CBC
Jackie Hong/CBC

Elliott said the outbreak started after a child who was exposed to COVID-19 in a social setting went to school. The outbreak was declared after it was determined that transmission had occurred within the classroom.

A rapid response team has been deployed to Watson Lake to assist with testing. In addition to getting tested, all Grade 4 students are asked to self-isolate until Sept. 25.

Teachers and educational assistants who are not vaccinated should self-isolate until Sept. 25 as well. Those who are vaccinated are asked to monitor for symptoms until Sept. 30.

No spread beyond the Grade 4 class

Elliott said there is no indication of spread beyond the Grade 4 class.

"The plans are designed so that the classroom is a closed group with more close contacts, but other contact is limited within the school, and that is designed to limit transmission," said Elliott.

She added that parents should not feel worried about sending their children to school.

"Schools are very safe places for children," said Elliott. "The operational plans exceed what children have in other community settings and other places, and the best way we can protect our children and keep them healthy is to keep them active, keep them in schools and make sure that the adults around them and the youth are vaccinated."

COVID-19 in school reflects community cases

It is not unusual for children to bring COVID-19 into schools when it is present in a community, according to Elliott.

"I think when we look at any situation in schools, it really reflects the disease activity in the community around the school," she said.

Several COVID-19 exposure notices have been issued for Watson Lake, a community of about 800, in the past weeks.

It was one of the territory's first communities to deal with major COVID-19 outbreaks this summer, and has a lower vaccination rate than the Yukon average.

Elliot said the best way to protect children and prevent further outbreaks in Watson Lake is for community members to get vaccinated.

"I hope this helps people think about whether they want to take that opportunity to get their first dose or complete their series in order to create better circles of protection around the children in our lives," said Elliott.

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