Windsor-Essex has the province's largest COVID-19 school outbreak with 39 cases

·4 min read

Windsor-Essex has the largest COVID-19 school outbreak in the province, with Frank W. Begley Public School reporting 39 cases Monday, according to the local health unit.

Twenty-nine students and eight staff have tested positive for the disease, while another two students are probable cases, the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit (WECHU) reported Monday. Based on its investigation, the first case showed symptoms on Nov. 8 and the first test was done on Nov. 15. The school was closed on Nov. 17. The index case is thought to be a staff member.

The school remains closed until further notice.

"Dismissing the entire school really helped us from a control perspective so that there's no ongoing transmission," Windsor-Essex's medical officer of health Dr. Wajid Ahmed said Monday.

What's been challenging about handling the outbreak at this school, Ahmed said, are some of the social barriers the school community faces.

He noted that some of the families are low income and that might impact their ability to keep their children home, and many have English as a second language, further impacting parents' ability to educate their children.

Katerina Georgieva/CBC
Katerina Georgieva/CBC

"There are a lot of issues there that have always been there, but I think because of the spread, it is just now showing more and more evident in terms of how some of these families are impacted more than the others," he said.

Of the cases reported, a majority are in those between the ages of 10 and 13 years old. The oldest case from the school is a 61-year-old.

In total, Ahmed said that 471 staff, students and family members of the school community have been tested.

Sharon Pyke, superintendent of education for the public school board, said that Monday is the first day students at the school are going through a full schedule of virtual classes.

"We're trying to keep a nice schedule for the kids and a nice routine, so that when they come back to the brick and mortar school, they're feeling comforted that that's the same," she said.

She said a deep clean of the school started on Friday.

Tim Lauzon, health and safety officer for the public board, said he's sending out a team of cleaners 6 a.m. Tuesday and they will likely be in the building until Thursday.

He said they'll be dressed in full personal protective equipment and clean everything from the desks and handrails to the floors.

He said they did some deep cleaning last week to help out the COVID-19 assessment clinic that the school held over the weekend, but now they'll be re-cleaning those areas used for the clinic and sanitize the rest of the building.

"We've had to do deep cleans before, never under these conditions and obviously never for COVID and so that's why we're using two different products to ensure a deep clean and a double hit of high touch surfaces," he said.

'We are in a bad shape right now'

On Monday, the region reported 36 new cases — a number that is in stark contrast to where the region was about a month ago when WECHU reported zero new COVID-19 cases on Oct. 21.

Of the new cases, 18 are close contacts of a confirmed case, four are community acquired, two are travel related to the U.S., one is a healthcare worker and 12 are under investigation.

There are 310 active cases.

"Now we are seeing a steep increase in the number of cases, as many of the other jurisdictions and many of the other places are seeing," Ahmed said.

"The steepness of this curve is significantly higher than what we have seen in the first wave and that is one of the most concerning things."

Katerina Georgieva/CBC
Katerina Georgieva/CBC

Five long-term care and retirement homes are in outbreak, including:

  • Leamington Mennonite in Leamington with one staff case.

  • Riverside Place in Windsor with one resident case.

  • Berkshire Care Center in Windsor with one staff case.

  • Lifetimes on Riverside in Windsor with five resident cases and four staff cases.

  • Iler Lodge in Essex with 17 resident cases and one staff case.

There is one community outbreak at a University of Windsor student campus and a workplace outbreak in Leamington's agriculture industry.

In addition to the outbreak at Frank W. Begley Public School, W. J. Langlois Catholic Elementary School is also in outbreak, with all staff and students dismissed. As of Monday, the Catholic school board's website says there are two student cases and two staff cases.

He said the health unit is currently investigating another possible school outbreak.

"It's pretty much everywhere and we need to be mindful of that," Ahmed said, noting that the virus is not just affecting one particular sector or demographic this time around.

"Everyone you are meeting by default assume they could be positive and take your precautions."

Over the weekend, the health unit reported 80 new cases for the region.

"We are in a bad shape right now and it can get worse," Ahmed said.

The region officially entered the province's orange or "restrict" category Monday at 12:01 a.m. as the COVID-19 case count continues to rise.

INTERACTIVE | Use this map to find local COVID-19 outbreaks in schools