1st student COVID-19 case in N.L. prompts Deer Lake school shutdown

1st student COVID-19 case in N.L. prompts Deer Lake school shutdown

An elementary school in Deer Lake has closed its doors for two days, after a student tested positive for COVID-19 on Monday morning.

Elwood Elementary will be closed for Monday and Tuesday, Education Minister Tom Osborne announced at a press conference Monday afternoon. Osborne said the student’s test results came back around 8 a.m. Monday, sparking the swift reversal from previous messaging from the school district, which had previously said schools were open in the town.

Students at the school are grouped into classroom cohorts to minimize their contacts, as part of the English school district’s COVID-19 operating plan, but Osborne said in this case officials decided to close the entire school and not just keep one class home.

“Because this is the first instance, I would rather that we acted with an abundance of caution then to look back and think that we should have,” Osborne said.

Osborne said the closure ensures effective contact testing, but that any closure beyond Wednesday could cause extra anxiety for a community already dealing with significant amounts of stress.

“We reached the right balance with two days. I think a week would have sent the wrong messages,” Osborne said.

Parents, students notified

Close contacts of the student within the school system were notified Monday morning, said Tony Stack, the CEO of the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District.

“We have every confidence that that has taken place,” Stack said.

For other students and staff, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald said to monitor for symptoms, but recognize that brief contact such as passing someone in a hallway presents a slim chance of exposure.

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“Those are very low risk, they’re very short periods of interaction, so they’re not considered to put somebody at risk for COVID-19 exposure,” she said.

Watch the full press conference below:

Teachers are at Elwood Elementary on Monday preparing online learning lessons for Tuesday, he said.

“Tomorrow there could be activities. We’re asking parents to be prepared for that connection outreach,” Stack said.

Both Stack and Osborne said the Elwood Elementary closure isn’t a template to follow if there are more school-related COVID-19. 

As the current scenario plays out in Deer Lake and public health officials do their work, Osborne asked for patience from the community.

“I know there is significant concern in the community of Deer Lake today and I certainly appreciate this concern gets amplified for people when their children are involved,” he said.

This is a breaking news update. A previous version of this story is below.

As school anxiety swirls, N.L. education officials to speak at 12:30 p.m. NTWith concerns swirling around classroom safety as Newfoundland and Labrador records its first case of COVID-19 within a school, the province’s education minister, the head of the English school board, and the chief medical officer of health will be addressing media Monday at 12:30 p.m. NT.

That press conference comes on the heels of the premier’s own COVID-19 briefing Monday morning, when a case of a Deer Lake elementary school student testing positive for COVID-19 was announced, and Andrew Furey implemented a two-week suspension to the Atlantic bubble

The education briefing will be live streamed on the provincial government’s YouTube channel.

The student is a close contact of a previously announced positive case, officials said Monday. The Western Health region now has 10 active cases, six of them connected to each other. Those connected cases prompted the Town of Deer Lake to go into lockdown, with its town council asking people to stay home and non-essential businesses to close.

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Despite those requests, along with other voluntary closures, schools in Deer Lake remained open on Monday.

“This is scary for a lot of people and for a lot of us,” Mayor Dean Ball told CBC Radio’s Newfoundland Morning.

Ball noted it’s not within his jurisdiction to close schools, and said communication is ongoing with public health and provincial government officials.

“I would not have been upset if they were closed. But again, we trust in the people who make those decisions and they’re confident those decisions are the best decisions for right now,” he said.

The teachers union echoed concerns about schools in Deer Lake and Grand Bank, which is also seeing a small spike in cases, with a press release on Monday morning.

“Schools are where all of the homes, workplaces and gatherings in our communities come together and, unfortunately, it is also where all of the viruses in a community meet,” said Dean Ingram, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Teachers’ Association, in the statement. “We cannot afford to wait to improve protections for our students. We should be learning from the poor decisions that have been made in other Canadian jurisdictions.”

Ingram has been calling for mandatory face masks for all students, as well as physical barriers for teachers. He said the NLTA takes issue with people accessing schools for extracurricular activities like sports.

The NLTA will speak to CBC News after the media conference.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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