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Concerns raised about what to do if COVID-19 outbreak happens at school

Posted: August 12, 2020

(August 11, 2020)

By: Nicole Lampa, CTV News Kitchener

KITCHENER — Just four weeks before children across Ontario head back to school, some are raising concerns about the lack of guidance provided when it comes to dealing with a possible COVID-19 outbreak.

The Ministry of Education for the province has said an outbreak will be declared if there are positive cases in more than one class.

They add that they’re finalizing outbreak protocol to be used across Ontario.

“Should there be a student or staff member that either has been exposed or tests positive, the school and school board will act directly with their local public health unit to determine the next steps,” said Cathy Abraham, president of the Ontario Public School Board Association.

The province has also said those next steps may include declaring an outbreak, closing classrooms, and even closing entire schools.

“I think it’s vital that those who are part of that school community get notified rapidly of any cases in the school,” said Kristina Llewellyn, an associate professor of social development studies at University of Waterloo.

Both school boards and public health in Waterloo Region say they are working on a notification process, but are still waiting on outbreak management protocols from the province.

Llewellyn says publicizing outbreaks in schools might be necessary if it’s widespread, but warns against naming the school if there is only one student or staff member that tests positive.

“I have some concern about the stigma and discrimination that might happen around those schools and particularly students in those schools,” she said.

Natalie Mehra, the head of the Ontario Healthcare Coalition, argues that public health units should list schools with outbreaks like they did with long term care homes.

“I think we’ve learned from the history so far in the first wave of this pandemic that transparency is critical,” said Mehra. “There is no public interest served by keeping the names of schools with outbreaks secret.”

The province said all school staff must be trained in outbreak management procedure when they announced their back to school plan last week.

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