Attendance down at two Halifax-area schools after COVID-19 cases confirmed
HALIFAX -- There were many empty seats at two Halifax-area schools on Tuesday after it was confirmed late Monday that a student at each school had tested positive for COVID-19.
Susan Burrell’s daughter attends Graham Creighton Junior High School in Cherry Brook, N.S. She was one of many parents who made the decision to keep their children home Tuesday.
“It’s good. It means that people are really taking it seriously,” said Burrell.
The student population was also down significantly at Auburn Drive High School in Cole Harbour, N.S., on Tuesday.
“You know, there are classes that have as few as four students in them and there’s a class that’s supposed to have 32. It’s down to seven,” said Paul Wozney, president of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union.
Some are questioning why the schools weren’t shut down altogether.
“They only closed two classrooms, but the teachers are in and out of those classrooms. The kids still go to the bathroom,” said Burrell.
Burrell says her child probably won’t attend school on Wednesday. She plans to keep her home until she feels confident the building is safe.
While Graham Creighton and Auburn Drive remain open, the students’ classrooms have been shut down and a deep clean of both buildings is underway.
Public health has identified anyone who is considered a close contact of the students, including their teachers, fellow classmates, students on the same bus, and students they came in contact with during lunch and recess. Those people are all isolating for the next 14 days and will be tested for COVID-19.
Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang says seven teachers have been identified as close contacts at Graham Creighton while two teachers are considered close contacts to the case at Auburn Drive. He isn’t certain how many students are self-isolating, but believes it is in the range of 53 to 55.
He also says anyone who is considered a close contact has already been contacted. Anyone connected to the schools who has not been contacted is not considered a close contact and doesn’t have to self-isolate.
This is the first time Nova Scotia has reported COVID-19 cases in schools during the pandemic.
“I understand today a number of students stayed away from our school as well as a number of teachers. I understand this is very stressful and I get that you are scared,” said Premier Stephen McNeil during a news conference in Halifax on Tuesday.
“This is the first time COVID has entered our schools.”
Strang says he’s not surprised to see cases in schools and that health and education officials have been preparing for the possibility since the summer.
“We fully expected to see cases in some of our schools,” said Strang during Tuesday’s news conference. “We were ready for that.”
Meanwhile, there has been a range of reaction in the community.
The Cole Harbour Bel Ayr Minor Hockey Association sent a memo to families Monday evening, asking that anyone who attends Graham Creighton or Auburn Drive not attend any hockey gatherings until further notice.
Another note was issued late Tuesday, stating all players who are not considered a close contact may resume all hockey activities.
Strang addressed the issue Tuesday, saying sports organizations should not prevent students from the two schools from taking part in activities, as there is no increased risk.
He and McNeil also said they are hearing reports that people are speculating and spreading rumours about the students and their families and they are urging members of the community to stop.
“That is wrong and it’s inappropriate,” said Strang. “We need to treat people with kindness and compassion.”
“I’m hearing that some students at those schools are trying to attach names to those cases. If you are part of the naming and shaming game then you are part of a bullying campaign,” said McNeil.
“This is not a time to embarrass or humiliate people with COVID.”
As to whether schools could shut down if more cases are confirmed, Strang said those decisions will be made on a case-by-case basis, and will depend on how many people are involved and how they were exposed.
“We are nowhere near that with these two schools,” he said.