Hamilton sees school COVID-19 cases as Ontario hints at full-remote learning in 2021

Ten students and one staff member in Hamilton have tested positive for COVID-19, the third double-digit day for school-related infections in the city. The province also said families and school boards should be prepared in case they begin January classes fully remote.

The province asked families and school boards to prepare for all scenarios, including full remote learning

Hamilton schools continue to see COVID-19 cases, and the province told families and school boards to be prepared for a potential pivot to full-remote learning. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

Ten students and one staff member in Hamilton have tested positive for COVID-19, the third double-digit day for school-related infections in the city.

Nora Frances Henderson Secondary School announced its fifth case in three weeks after a staff member tested positive for the virus. There's no outbreak at the school, according to the public board.

"School administrators have notified all impacted families and staff members who are identified as a close contact. The students and staff members associated with the confirmed case will self-isolate for 14 days. [Public health] will connect with close contacts as part of their contact tracing process," read a message to families.

"Public health has determined there is no epidemiological link between this and previous cases at our school, and therefore no outbreak will be declared."

A Cecil B. Stirling Elementary School student, a Gordon Price Elementary School student and two students from Saltfleet District High School also tested positive, but there's no declared outbreak at any of the locations.

Meanwhile, St. Jean de Brébeuf Catholic Secondary School has reported its fourth student case of COVID-19. It also has no outbreak.

The student was last in school on Wednesday, Dec. 9.

"Any students, staff or cohorts that are required to self-isolate will be notified immediately by the school and will be contacted by Hamilton Public Health Services within the next two days," read a message to families.

Both local boards say a public school student in remote school, a student at Eastdale Elementary School, a student at St. John Paul II Catholic Elementary School and two adult learners at St. Charles Adult & Continuing Education also tested positive but had no school-related close contacts, and pose low-to-no risk to the schools.

Families should be 'ready for all scenarios' in 2021

This comes as the province has asked families and school boards to be prepared for the possibility of full-remote learning after the winter break. 

Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB) said in a message to families yesterday that the province and local public health hasn't made a decision yet, but that "students should bring home all personal items from school prior to the break."

Dawn Danko, HWDSB chair, said the announcement was a surprise, given the province said earlier it would not do so after flirting with the idea roughly a month ago.

"I do appreciate where this is coming from. The ministry, from what I can tell, has been focused on keeping schools open as much as possible while considering students and staff and community safety ... I would have liked to have seen some messaging earlier," she said in an interview Thursday morning.

"Perhaps there have been pressures ... people do gather around that Christmas holiday ... we would have people potentially coming back to school who may have engaged in a gathering larger than you're supposed to, increasing the risk [to others] and they would be asymptomatic, so it wouldn't necessarily be caught by screening."

Danko, like the message to families states, said the board has been planning for a pivot to remote learning and is ready to hand out devices as needed. It may need people working in the schools during the holidays and continuing to increase the board's inventory of devices, she said, but it does have a plan.

It puts pressure on families to be ready to adapt at the start of the new year, Danko said. But she thinks a period of remote learning after the winter break may be wise, given what happened during the last holiday break.

"We saw after Thanksgiving, case numbers did go up. This is my personal opinion, of course, but when we look at the trends that happened after holidays with COVID numbers, when we look at the impacts a case has on our schools ... families would be impacted negatively that way as well."

The Catholic school board reminded families to follow COVID-19 rules during the holidays.

"Over the break, it will be especially important for everyone to adhere to public health measures when connecting with family and friends. We know that close contact puts people at the greatest risk for COVID-19. Avoiding events or social gatherings over the break can positively impact your new year," the message said.

"We are asking parents/guardians to remind their children to take home any materials that they may require for remote learning before they leave school for the holidays so that we can continue to be ready for all scenarios."