Fast-spreading COVID-19 outbreak closes Kitchener elementary school

WATERLOO REGION – The Blessed Sacrament Catholic Elementary School in Kitchener is closed for at least 10 days due to concerns about the rapid and widespread transmission of COVID-19.

The Waterloo Public Health Region on Wednesday ordered the closure of in-person learning at the school where there are currently 19 cases of COVID-19 that have resulted in the dismissal of multiple cohorts.

Associate Medical Health Officer Dr. Julie Emili called the outbreak an “exceptional circumstance” approaching well into the school year.

“We’ve been at this for many months and we’ve seen very few outbreaks in the school system, and for the most part, this is a rare outbreak. It has been limited to one or two cases, so the spread has been very limited. That is even within our primary system where children are not yet vaccinated, ”he said during a press conference on Wednesday.

All the cases occur in students and almost 70% of the cases occur in two classrooms. None of the students with COVID-19 are hospitalized.

The closure follows a rapid increase in cases over the past week, Emili said. “The idea is to prevent more cases from occurring in the school environment.”

The cases are a combination of community and school acquired infections.

“Because it is primarily an unvaccinated population, Delta spreads much more easily in this environment,” Emili said.

Blessed Sacrament has a student population of 340 and ascends to grade 8. Most cases are among the youngest unvaccinated students.

“We have seen some spread among vaccinated students. This is not unusual. The vaccine definitely reduces the risk of contracting COVID, but it does not eliminate it completely, ”said Emili. “The vast majority are not vaccinated, since the majority of students would not yet be eligible for vaccination.”

Public health had identified 142 high-risk contacts at the school by Wednesday morning.

The outbreak was declared a week ago on November 16.

Closing the school was a decision made late Tuesday as a precaution, said Loretta Notten, director of education for the Waterloo Catholic District School Board.

“Actually, it was the school board that initiated the request for closure,” Notten said.

“We are clearly concerned about what happened at the Blessed Sacrament. But overall, we have done very, very well as a school system and with our schools and the case counts have been low and we still have a high level of confidence in the safety of our classrooms, our schools and our protocols. ” .

Remote learning will begin for all students on the Thursday after Wednesday to ensure that all students who need a Chromebook have one and that teachers are prepared to switch to remote learning. Cohorts that have already been isolated have been learning online.

“We know that we have the ability to provide online learning in the meantime, so the learning doesn’t have to be interrupted and it just ensures that we don’t have more families than might be necessary to be impacted by COVID,” Notten said. .

Public health is working with the school to ensure that infection and prevention control measures are in place to protect staff, students, and their families.

Rapid antigen testing is also recommended when students return to school after closure to limit further spread, and public health will work with the school to distribute the test kits to families.

Emili said it is good news that the COVID-19 vaccine is available in the region for children ages five to 11 as of this Friday.

“There is much to look forward to in the coming week, and I think many parents are excited about the opportunity to vaccinate their children, especially in this age cohort where we are seeing this outbreak.”

Johanna Weidner is a General Assignment Reporter in the Waterloo region for The Record. Contact her by email: [email protected]

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