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Local Public Health and school boards change COVID-19 notification process

As schools prepare for their upcoming spring break and a stay-at-home order is in effect across the province, schools and child care remain open in public health regions where it is permitted, with strict safety measures in place.

To date, Hastings Prince Edward Public Health (HPEPH) states it has not seen spread of COVID-19 within classrooms, and only one occurrence of spread within bus transportation.  With the exception of this single occurrence, all of the cases reported among students and school staff have been acquired outside of the school environment, and no spread has taken place within the classroom itself.

Some of the rising cases in area youth are related to an outbreak at a Belleville daycare with 8 children and three staff cases to date and an outbreak on a school bus with two related cases.

The Ontario government page  is reporting 13 recent cases at schools and child care centres lists COVID-linked cases to: Nicholson Catholic College (2); Our Lady of Fatima Catholic School (1), both in Belleville, Scared Heart Catholic School in Quinte West (2); St. Paul Catholic Elementary School in Quinte West (1 staff case); North Trenton Public School (3); Prince Charles Public School (1); Prince of Wales Public School (1); Queen Victoria School (1); Trent River Public School (1).

“This means that infection control measures such as distancing, face coverings, sanitizing and hand washing are working,” stated HPEPH in a media release.

HPEPH is working with school partners to streamline notification processes and ensure individuals impacted by COVID-19 cases in a school setting are informed as quickly as possible.

HPEPH states that until early this month, all high-risk contacts of individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19 in a school environment have been notified via a direct phone call from a public health representative. As cases have risen double-digits daily in the region over the past week, HPEPH is making changes to ensure health resources are used as efficiently as possible during this critical time.

Effective immediately, school boards will provide automated phone calls to individuals who have had high-risk COVID-19 contact in a school environment, in place of individual phone calls.

“It is essential families ensure accurate contact information is on file with the school. The automated call will provide critical information about isolation and testing requirements and will be supported by a detailed letter, distributed by the school on behalf of HPEPH. Low-risk contacts in the school setting will also be advised of their status by automated phone call and a supporting letter by the school on behalf of HPEPH, for awareness and reassurance.

In situations where a comprehensive risk assessment is required to determine if individuals are high- or low-risk, HPEPH will conduct phone calls to ensure risk is evaluated.

School families are still able to reach out to HPEPH if they have questions, or they are unsure how to manage isolation for a school-age child. In addition, HPEPH has updated its web page, Information for People who Test Positive, and Close Contacts of People with COVID-19.

This change is to help alleviate the time consuming and labour-intensive process of identifying and notifying high-risk contacts of individuals who test positive. Last week, the team at HPEPH notified more than 500 high-risk contacts, noting each call can take up to 45 minutes.

“When an individual tests positive, Public Health conducts a detailed, one-on-one interview to learn more about that person’s recent activities, and the individuals with whom they had contact during their contagious period. Depending on the individual’s personal situation and discretionary choices, they might have very few close contacts, or they might have 30 or more. This is the reason it is so important for individuals to limit non-essential contact with those outside their household.

“Public Health carefully assesses these interactions to determine who might have had high-risk exposure to the individual. Each of these high-risk contacts must then be notified by Public Health and advised to isolate for 14 days from their last day in school/last contact with the individual who tested positive.”

HPEPH recommends people keep children home if they are sick.

“If your child (or anyone else in your household) has a sniffle, runny nose, headache, stomach ache, cough, sore throat, chills, fever, headache, or any of the other symptoms of COVID-19, just stay home. There is no such thing as “just a cold” during the pandemic. Your child’s runny nose could put someone else in the ICU.”

If anyone in your household has any symptom of COVID-19, all household members must stay home until the symptomatic individual receives a negative COVID-19 test result.

During the stay-at-home order, everybody should avoid non-essential contact with others. School, work, groceries, and medical appointments are essential reasons to have (distanced) contact with others. Wear your face covering, keep your distance and wash your hands. Avoid any unnecessary contact with those outside of your household.

Oglaza asks people to be kind and patient.
“During these unprecedented times, it is easy to place blame on those around us. Please remember local health care workers, public health representatives, essential workers, educators, support staff, families, and students, are your neighbours, friends, and loved ones. Please help support those who are doing their best to keep our community safe by recognizing and respecting these efforts.”

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