By Nick Bernard
Last week, as part of their daily COVID-19 advisory table, the Trillium Lakelands District School Board reported that two cases of COVID-19 had been confirmed at J. Douglas Hodgson Elementary School in Haliburton.
Over the weekend, a third case was discovered. As a result, the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit declared an outbreak, with two classrooms at the school affected.
Parents whose children were identified as possible high-risk contacts were notified through letters sent home from the health unit. The letter included specific steps for vaccinated or unvaccinated individuals to follow for isolating, testing and other prevention measures.
“Provincial guidance requires a school outbreak be declared when two or more linked confirmed cases occur within a 14-day period, where at least one case could have reasonably acquired their infection in the school,” said Dr. Natalie Bocking, the medical officer of health with the HKPR District Health Unit, in an email to the Echo.
“Related to this situation is an ongoing COVID-19 outbreak declared on school bus No. 32 in Haliburton County. The bus transported students to multiple schools, including J.D. Hodgson, Stuart Baker Elementary School, and Haliburton Highlands Secondary School,” Dr. Bocking said. “Individuals who rode the bus and were identified as possible high-risk contacts have received information from the health unit that included requirements for isolating, going for testing and other prevention measures.”
Letters had also been sent to parents at Stuart Baker Elementary and Haliburton Highlands Secondary Schools.
Dr. Bocking also stated that, while the Omicron variant has been found elsewhere in Ontario, it has not been detected locally:
“At this time, the health unit has not been notified of any local cases of Omicron variant and the Delta variant remains the dominant strain of COVID-19 in the province,” she said, stipulating that cases were, in fact, increasing throughout the province. “It’s important that everyone continue to take precautions to stop the spread of the virus, including getting vaccinated.”
In an email, the Haliburton Highlands Health Services president and CEO Carolyn Plummer said that the Haliburton County Community Assessment Centre is ready to handle the increased demand for testing.
“Haliburton County Community Assessment Centre is collaborating with the [Haliburton Kawartha Pine Ridge District Health Unit] to ensure we up-staff to have as much capacity as possible to respond to the increased testing needs for student cohorts affected by our local school COVID-19 cases. We continue to reassess this need daily and adapt as needed,” said Plummer, quoting from a statement conveyed through Plummer from the assessment centre and its community partners.
“We thank all families for following HKPR’s advice and coming out for testing while self-isolating. Testing as directed by HKPR will help capture asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic cases that develop during the self-isolation period and ensure our schools stay safe when cohorts return.”
Plummer’s statement included an alternative testing method approved by the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO). A video titled “How to do a combined nose and mouth swab for COVID-19” was provided alongside the statement, and is available to view on CHEO’s YouTube page.
Dr. Bocking said families could also contact the Health Unit’s School Health Team at 1-866-888-4577, ext. 1508, if they had any additional questions or concerns.
The TLDSB COVID-19 Advisory School Status is updated daily at 4:30 p.m. The Advisory Status page can be viewed at https://www.tldsb.ca/covid19-advisory.