More school divisions isolating entire classrooms after single positive COVID tests

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There has recently been an informal change in health directives in the Prince Albert Catholic School Division when a student tests positive for COVID-19.

Last weekend Saskatoon Public Schools changed their guidelines where entire classes have to isolate after a single positive case in a class.

A similar change has also occurred in the Saskatchewan Rivers School Division.

Director of education Lorel Trumier explained that the change to having entire classrooms or cohorts self-isolate has to do with the increase of cases in the community and province.

“Essentially if there is a positive case within a cohort or a class that entire cohort or class will isolate until a period of time as based as on the opinion of the Public Health,” Trumier said.

She explained that local public health perform their investigation and determine the timeframe for isolation for the group.

“That of course is very precautionary but it is essential that we do try to reduce the spread and I think that schools are important in this process. And we have been working very diligently in our schools to make sure that we reduce the spread. We are pleased to say that the spread has not occurred within our schools to date,” Trumier said.

For example, in the recent case identified at the before and after school program at Ecole Holy Cross, the cohort will be self-isolating until midnight on Dec. 3. A cohort is a group of people and a classroom can be part of a cohort as well as a cohort itself.

“It is a cohort that, together, they have been identified as a close contact to an individual who has tested positive. Therefore that cohort will need to isolate for a period of time,” Trumier said.

This case is more specifically a cohort because it is a before and after school program and not a classroom.

The change in how a COVID-19 case is handled didn’t come specifically from the province but more from consultations.

“It was in dialogue with our health authority. We meet regularly with our local health officials, we also have the opportunity to meet regularly with Dr. (Saqib) Shahab and work through some procedures and processes. We need our medical officials and we need our medical personnel, our essential workers, to be able to continue working so we have got to do what we can to reduce the spread and stop the spread. Because it grows exponentially,” Trumier said.

There have been cases reported at St. Francis School, Ecole St. Mary High School and Ecole St. Anne since October.

There was also an outbreak, which means more than two cases in the same location, declared at  Ecole St. Mary High School on Oct.24. None of the cases were acquired at the school, but rather brought in from the community.

All of these outbreaks are still listed as active by the province. Outbreaks have to declared over by an SHA Medical Health Officer before they can be removed from the list.

According to a release by the SHA on Tuesday, eight per cent of all infections come from educational institutions. Cases are more likely students or staff and test positivity is higher in the 14-year-old to 19-year-old age range.

Shahab said Wednesday that sports and recreational activities were causing much of the spread into schools and workplaces.

Trumier explained that the division believes these measures plus proper practices such as hand washing, sanitization, distancing where possible and social distancing where possible can lessen the spread.

“Those are all the heavy lifters to reducing the spread and so we are going to continue our process so we have our students and staff interests here as a priority and make them priority number one,” Trumier said.

The Ministry of Education and Ministry of Health were not available to comment on whether isolating entire classrooms was a provincial direction as of deadline.