By Mike Baker
An entire bus load of students and at least one classroom from Haliburton County are quarantining after being identified as close contacts of a positive COVID-19 case over the weekend.
In a letter distributed to parents on Sunday [April 18], the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit [HKPRDHU] confirmed that children who travelled on Bus #57 on April 8 could have been exposed to COVID-19 and as such would have to quarantine in their homes until April 22.
“This letter serves as official notice of mandatory quarantine and testing recommendations. You will be contacted by the public health unit only if you receive a positive COVID-19 test, if you call to report symptoms, or if quarantine dates change based on our investigation,” the letter reads. “Quarantine is a legal requirement to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Any teachers or staff who may have been working on Bus #57 on April 8 for longer than 15 minutes will also have to quarantine.
Providing that students show no symptoms, other members of the household are permitted to leave their home for essential reasons. Essential reasons include attending work, school and childcare, or running errands such as to pick up groceries, attend medical appointments or picking up a prescription. If the individual displays symptoms, all household members must quarantine until a negative test result is received.”
Haliburton Highlands Secondary School [HHSS] principal Chris Boulay sent an email all HHSS families on Sunday evening stating he had been informed by the health unit that a person from HHSS had tested positive for COVID-19. There was no mention of Bus #57, nor whether the infected individual was a staff member or a student, in his note.
“We know this information may be upsetting. We are working closely with Trillium Lakelands District School Board and HKPRDHU. Together, we are taking necessary steps to prevent the further spread of COVID-19 within our school community,” Boulay said.
Virtual classes began for all TLDSB students on Monday [April 19]. The Ontario government has not yet indicated when they will reopen schools for in-person learning. Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced last week that all schools would remain closed indefinitely following the April Break in the wake of the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
There was some concern amongst parents and members of the community that it took the health unit 10 days to notify the school board and parents about this positive case and subsequent risk. Laurie Oetelaar, who claims to be the bus driver for Bus #57, was particularly unhappy about the situation.
“I find it absolutely despicable that I wasn’t notified and put my husband’s, and other seniors I drive, lives at risk,” Oetelaar stated in a post on the Haliburton Echo Facebook page. “Maybe a call from the school board or health unit might [have helped] clear things up.”
In a separate release to media on Friday [April 16] the local health unit said it was adjusting the way it notifies people that they may be a high-risk contact of a confirmed case of COVID-19, now emailing letters to individuals outlining quarantine and testing requirements. This change comes as Dr. Natalie Bocking, medical officer of health for HKPRDHU, raised concerns over the unit’s “stretched capacity” following a recent increase in positive COVID-19 cases in the area.
If you have concerns about your child’s symptoms, consult your health care provider or seek immediate medical attention through the HHSS emergency department, or by calling 911. The health unit asks that you contact them at 1-866-888-4577 ext. 1508 to report symptoms in your child or other household members.