By Darren Lum
When Highlands resident Brandon Nimigon learned his daughter had close contact with a peer in her class who tested positive for COVID-19 he was left worried about her health.
The married father of two received a phone call from Stuart Baker Elementary School about his daughter’s exposure on Wednesday, Nov. 24. He was told about the recommendation for testing and that his daughter would need to go home and self-isolate while watching for symptoms and if none developed, be able to return Monday, Nov. 29
“It’s a bit worrisome, right? So it always hits a little closer to home when it’s your little girl. So yeah, a bit worrisome, right? That’s what we did. We did the test pretty much right away ourselves. Just to make sure,” he said, referring to a rapid test he had access to. “We thought about who our kids have been in contact with last few days. I let my mom know [and told her] she should come to a get rapid test with us. And you know, that was just worrisome, really,” he said.
His daughter was sent home with a letter, and after the test at the assessment centre the family was given an outline of directives and recommendations, which included monitoring for symptoms, testing, and self-isolation. They were also contacted by phone by the health unit on Thursday, reiterating the recommendations and directives, including an opportunity for questions.
Nimigon adds with the exception of his three-year-old son, the entire family was tested through the health unit and the results were negative. When their results were negative he didn’t see the need to have his son tested. All of them self-isolated until the end of this past weekend. The health unit called the family on Sunday to check on their health.
Trillium Lakelands District School Board’s Sinead Fegan, who did not disclose how many students were affected, wrote in an email the board was notified on Nov. 24 about the positive case at SBES.
“As a result, one classroom and one bus were identified as high risk contacts. All families of students in the classroom and on the bus were contacted, directed by the health units to isolate and recommended to go for testing at their nearest assessment centre,” she wrote in an email, referencing Haliburton Kawartha Pine Ridge District health unit. “Due to bus sharing, this case also affected students at JD Hodgson Elementary School and Haliburton Highlands Secondary School. Again, these students were identified as close contacts and directed by the health units to isolate and recommended to go for testing at their nearest assessment centre.”
Another case at SBES was listed in TLDSB’s COVID-19 Advisory School Status (www.tldsb.ca/covid19-advisory/) on Friday afternoon, Nov. 26, which is updated at 4:30 weekdays.
The health unit’s Chandra Tremblay confirmed the second case and that there was an outbreak declared for school bus No. 32, which transports students to SBES, HHSS and JDHES. Haliburton Bus Lines and the schools were contacted about the cases on Nov. 26.
Tremblay wrote in an email, “Provincial guidance requires an outbreak be declared when two or more confirmed cases are identified as being transmitted in a setting within a 14-day timeframe. One of those cases has since been cleared, leaving one confirmed case at Stuart Baker Elementary School.”
Letters from the health unit were sent to anyone who was on the bus during the “period of communicability” and that they were potentially a contact of a case. The letter included steps, which were specific to vaccinated or unvaccinated individuals, to follow.
The message to the public from the health unit is to get vaccinated because it provides the greatest protection against the virus.
The health unit “continues to encourage everyone to get fully vaccinated against COVID-19.”
Fegan said the school is ensuring the safety of students and staff.
“The school is working closely with Trillium Lakelands District School Board and the health unit. Together, we are taking necessary steps to prevent the further spread of COVID-19 within our school community. Due to privacy laws, the health unit will not release personal information about any staff or student who is ill unless deemed necessary.”
As of noon on Monday, Nov. 29, the Haliburton Bus Lines manager Dave Freeman confirmed he was notified, but didn’t know about the outbreak declaration.
“They’ve obviously done their investigation … we’re following the board protocols, which is the buses are sanitized twice daily, after the morning run and after the afternoon run. And all people boarding the bus must mask, all people boarding the bus must sanitize their hands with the sanitizer provided,” he said.
Freeman adds there is a clear vinyl barrier between the driver’s area and where the passengers sit.
“We put those in to provide that extra step of safety for our employees,” he said.
Anyone who has questions about COVID-19, symptoms, or the dates and locations of mass immunization clinics can visit www.hkpr.on.ca or call 1-866-888-4577, ext. 5020.