By Kaitlyn Clark
The Haldimand Press
HAGERSVILLE—A Grade 4 student at Walpole North Elementary School, who attended class on Friday, September 11, 2020, tested positive for COVID-19 over the weekend. A total of 12 students and two teachers who had contact with the class have been directed by the Haldimand Norfolk Health Unit (HNHU) to self-isolate for 14 days.
“(Affected) students and staff were identified through contact tracing as we provided the health unit with our class lists and seating charts, as well as information related to transportation and any other special assignments,” said Principal Randy Ongena in a statement to school families. “Moving forward, all Walpole North students and staff are asked to monitor their health. If symptoms consistent with COVID-19 develop, please contact your primary health care provider. Anyone concerned that they may have developed or been exposed to COVID-19 is encouraged to get tested.”
Haldimand Norfolk’s Medical Officer of Health, Shanker Nesathurai, stated, “As we do with any other exposure, we identify people who might be at higher risk and isolate individuals as appropriate and test people as appropriate…. We would anticipate that with more relaxation and with more human to human interaction, whether at schools or other activities, that we would see further cases being identified…. We continue to work on trying to mitigate or minimize chances of transmission. The fact that we have cases in schools is not entirely unexpected.”
The entire household of the student in question is to self-isolate. The school’s release noted that anyone with close contact is being asked to isolate, which includes those in the class and “may also include others”. The Haldimand Press asked the HNHU if families of the other students and teachers are also being asked to self-isolate, but did not receive a response as of press time.
Nesathurai admitted he is concerned that HNHU staff could become overwhelmed if they need to do contact tracing for a large number of cases at once.
“It is something that weighs on my mind. Contact tracing is very (consuming) from a human resource perspective,” he said. “I’m concerned if we get a large wave of cases all at one time it will saturate our abilities to do contact tracing. There are ways to mitigate that, like hiring more people.
Nesathurai continued, “The public health service staff have been working an extraordinary number of hours to try to help manage COVID-19, and it weighs on my mind a little bit how we maintain sustainability in our continued response.”
Walpole North opened on Monday, September 14 as scheduled to everyone who has not been directed to self-isolate. Ongena added, “Grand Erie custodians have completed a disinfecting of our school. Walpole North staff will work with students and families to ensure learning continues for those who are self-isolating. The individual who tested positive, as well as all close contacts, must complete their isolation period and be able to pass the COVID-19 Self-Assessment Tool before returning to school.”
When asked about the future of COVID-19, Nesathurai said it is “hard to predict”; he believes things like a vaccine would “do a lot to prevent transmission” and would “help (control), not end” the pandemic. He said that he doesn’t “have any clear idea on a timeline” but he believes it is “likely to be here into 2021.”
“The key things that we can do as a culture to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is to maintain social distancing, stay 2 metres away from other people, wear a mask, especially when one cannot consistently be 2 metres away from someone else, wash our hands,” said Nesathurai, adding its also important to limit gatherings. “The other important piece of advice I have for all people in our community is that if you’re sick do not go out. Do not go to work, do not go to school. Get tested if you’re worried that you might have COVID-19.”
Nesathurai said that COVID-19 has a wide variety of presentations, that “some don’t display symptoms but are able to spread the illness”, and that “like with any novel illness or new disease, we’re constantly understanding and learning about the illness.”
When asked how he feels the community is doing with the above precautions, Nesathurai responded, “I think they’re doing okay. I think most people are committed to wearing masks. I think the community is overall committed to trying to mitigate COVID-19…. There’s always room for improvement.”
Note: The HNHU and Grand Erie District School Board have not confirmed if the individual who tested positive was a student, citing privacy concerns. The Press received this information from a family with a child attending Walpole North Elementary.