By Sue Tiffin
Haliburton Highlands Secondary School students in a Grade 11 chemistry class, a Grade 12 English class and a Grade 12 math class have been identified as close contacts of two students who have tested positive for COVID-19.
A March 14 e-mail to families from HHSS principal Chris Boulay included a letter from the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge district health unit noting that students in the chemistry class must quarantine from March 14 until midnight on March 22, while students in the English class and math class must quarantine from March 14 until midnight on March 25.
“This letter serves as official notice of your child’s mandatory quarantine and testing recommendation,” reads the letter. “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.”
Quarantine is a legal requirement to prevent the spread of COVID-19, reads the letter.
Students must quarantine at home from today until midnight on March 22, or until midnight on March 25 depending on which class they were in, which means they should not leave their property unless it is for a COVID-19 test or for necessary medical attention. The health unit letter recommends chemistry class students go for testing at their nearest assessment centre, on March 15, and if tested prior to that, a retest is “strongly recommended” on March 18, and that English and math class students go for testing on March 18, with a retest recommended on March 22.
“Evidence has shown that most people who get COVID-19 will test positive 7 days or more after being exposed to someone with COVID-19,” reads a fact sheet sent to parents. “This means that if your child gets tested less than seven days after their exposure, there is a risk that they will test negative even though they could have the virus. Current recommendations suggest that testing should occur on or after day seven. If a close contact is tested prior to day seven, a repeat test will be recommended on day 10 if the initial test was negative.”
Students should be monitored daily for symptoms including fever, new or worsening cough, headache and shortness of breath, also sore throat, difficulty swallowing, changes to sense of taste or smell, nausea or vomiting, diarrhea, runny nose or nasal congestion.
“If your child does not have symptoms, all household members must stay home except for essential reasons,” reads the letter from the health unit. “Essential reasons include attending work/school/childcare and essential errands such as groceries, attending medical appointments or picking up prescriptions.”
“If your child has symptoms, household members must quarantine until a negative test result is received,” reads the letter. “Household members are at increased risk based on sharing of a household and it is important to stay home to prevent potential spread of COVID-19.”
Parents have been asked to consult a health care provider or seek immediate medical attention through an emergency department if required, and to contact the health unit to report symptoms of any household members at 1-866-888-4577, extension 1508.
Students in a Grade 9 science class will move to remote learning until March 23 “out of an abundance of caution and based upon the information we have at this time from the health unit,” according to a separate e-mail from Boulay.
When asked if students who might have been on the bus with people who later tested positive should quarantine, the school board told the Times: “The health unit completed an investigation for contact tracing. Therefore, if an individual is identified as a close contact, they would have been contacted by the health unit with direction that they must follow.”
A letter to all families notes that if students are not a close contact of the person who tested positive, they can go to school, as usual, and do not need to stay at home, isolate, or go for testing unless they start showing symptoms of COVID-19 and do not pass the daily COVID-19 self-screening.
“We know this information may be upsetting,” said the letter to all HHSS families sent by Boulay. “We are working closely with TLDSB and HKPRDHU. 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.
“Please know that whenever there is an identified COVID-19 case at a school, there is additional cleaning and sanitizing of the school above and beyond the extensive cleaning and sanitizing that occurs throughout each school day,” he said. “The safety of our students and staff is most important and we continue to follow all public health protocols.”
Secondary school students are following a block or octomester schedule, working on one course at a time in a cohort. In semester two, students were studying one course in one cohort from Feb. 3 to March 9, and then switched to a new course and new cohort on March 10 until April 20.
The school board had partnered with LifeLabs to provide voluntary asymptomatic testing on Saturday, March 6 for students and their family members, teachers and staff. A message went home to TLDSB families about the testing on March 2 and 3 and the tests took place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Haliburton Highlands Secondary School for asymptomatic individuals – those not experiencing any COVID-19 symptoms. It is not known if the cases reported on March 14 was confirmed as a result of that testing, in which 69 people from six schools took part, although the most updated data thus far shows there were no positive tests reported as part of that day’s testing.
“Asymptomatic testing is an important layer of protection that helps to track and prevent the spread of COVID-19,” reads a March 3 TLDSB media release. “Increased testing may also help to reduce stress and anxiety related to the virus by identifying cases early and avoiding outbreaks.”
As of March 16, seven confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 10 high risk contacts were currently being reported in Haliburton County on the local health unit’s epidemiological report database. On March 12, an outbreak at Hyland Crest long-term care home was declared after one staff member tested positive for COVID-19 during routine testing. A total of 58 cases of COVID-19, one of those resulting in death, have been reported in Haliburton County since the beginning of the pandemic.
Further information about asymptomatic targeted testing in schools is available at https://www.ontario.ca/page/covid-19-asymptomatic-targeted-testing-schools. One recent case has been identified as a variant of concern, the first in the county.
Further information about COVID-19 cases in schools and child care centres is available at https://www.ontario.ca/page/covid-19-cases-schools-and-child-care-centres.
Further information about COVID-19 can be found at http://www.hkpr.on.ca.
Further information about the TLDSB response to COVID-19 can be found at https://www.tldsb.ca/covid19/.