Three outbreaks declared in two days at Hamilton schools

·4 min read

Three COVID-19 outbreaks have been declared at elementary schools in Hamilton — two in the Catholic board and one in the public board — in two days.

An outbreak was declared at St. Ann Catholic Elementary School in central Hamilton on Thursday after two cases of the virus were found in staff members. The individuals who tested positive were last at the school on Feb. 12.

In a letter to parents on Thursday, principal Joseph Curto said “students and staff should continue to attend school, unless directed otherwise” by public health.

The Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board says 31 students and 16 staff, including the two positive cases, are currently self-isolating.

An outbreak was declared at St. Teresa of Avila Catholic Elementary School on Wednesday after five positive cases were found. The board announced Thursday morning the school would close — a first in the Catholic board — on Friday as a result of the outbreak.

“We have communicated to the principal, to the parents that effective tomorrow, following conversation, consultation with public health, we will be moving St. Teresa of Avila to fully remote learning for Friday and all of next week,” Catholic board chair Pat Daly told The Spectator.

Students are expected to return to in-person learning on March 1, he said.

The west Mountain elementary school reported on Feb. 16 that two staff members had tested positive for the virus. Three more cases — two staff and one student — were reported the following day.

In a Feb. 17 letter to families, principal Devia Catania said Hamilton public health has “determined that there is an epidemiological link between these and earlier cases at the school, and therefore an outbreak is being declared.”

Students, staff or cohorts required to quarantine “will be notified immediately” and contacted by public health within two days.

The board reported three additional cases — all students — at St. Teresa of Avila on Thursday, bringing the total number of positive cases to eight.

The individuals who tested positive were last at school on Feb. 12.

As of Thursday evening, 95 students and 20 staff are self-isolating, including the four infected staff members, the Catholic board told The Spectator.

“That was what drove the decision to move to fully remote (learning),” he said. “Our No. 1 priority is with regard to the health and safety of staff and students, but secondly out of concern with our ability to continue to sufficiently staff the school.”

The Catholic board says it is working with public health to set up targeted testing clinics at St. Teresa of Avila “over the next couple of days” as part of the province’s expanded testing initiative.

Hamilton public health says it “considers a number of factors when assessing school contacts.”

“Students within a cohort of a positive case are considered close contacts,” said public health spokesperson James Berry in an email to The Spectator. For others in the school, factors such as proximity to the case, duration of the exposure, level of personal protective equipment (PPE) and age are taken into consideration.

Public health says “it can be difficult to determine exactly where transmission occurs since group have different levels of interaction.”

The same measures apply to the new variants, “but require more rigorous application due to the increased transmission risk,” Berry said.

The Catholic board has reported a total of 13 cases — seven students and six staff — in the last two days.

An outbreak was also declared on Wednesday at A.M. Cunningham Elementary School in central Hamilton after two students tested positive for the virus — one on Feb. 15 and one on Feb. 17.

“School administrators will contact any students or staff identified as close contacts, who will self-isolate for 14 days,” reads a Feb. 17 statement on the public school’s website.

Hamilton public health says there were 17 outbreaks and 39 outbreak-related cases of COVID-19 among students and staff at public and Catholic schools in the first half of the school year.

Schools in Hamilton reopened for in-person learning on Feb. 8 with enhanced health and safety measures — including daily screening requirements for secondary students, outdoor masking and new guidance discouraging students from congregating before and after school — in place after weeks of remote learning.

Kate McCullough, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator