Kitchener-Waterloo

COVID outbreak closes Blessed Sacrament elementary school in Kitchener for 10 days

Blessed Sacrament Catholic Elementary School will be closed for the next 10 days as the Kitchener school deals with a large COVID-19 out break. Most positive cases were among younger students but cases also spread to vaccinated students as well, said public health.

School will be closed for in-person learning for at least 10 days starting Wednesday, public health says

A Toronto District School Board staff person sanitizes a table in a kindergarten classroom. On Wednesday, Region of Waterloo Public Health closed Blessed Sacrament Catholic Elementary School after 19 COVID cases at the Kitchener school. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

Blessed Sacrament Catholic Elementary School will be closed to in-person learning for at least the next 10 days, as public health confirms the Kitchener, Ont., school is now dealing with 19 COVID-19 cases.

"We are closing a school for the first time since the return to in-class learning this fall due to concern about the potential for widespread and rapid transmission of the virus," said Dr. Julie Emili, associate medical officer of health for the Region of Waterloo in a news release.

In a media briefing, Emili said the cases were primarily among unvaccinated students in two classroom cohorts, but some of the cases were in older students, who had already been vaccinated. 

"This is not unusual," said Emili. "In a situation where there may be more than one person who has COVID, or where there is close, prolonged contact — such as what we would see in a school setting — it is not unusual to have [spread in the vaccinated]."

Public health officials said they are working closely with the school to protect staff, students and their families from exposure to the virus and implement infection prevention and control protocols.

Public health is also recommending rapid antigen testing as part of the return to school after the closure, and it said officials will work with the school to distribute testing kits to families.

Blessed Sacrament is located in the Country Hills area of southwestern Kitchener. It serves about 200 families and 279 children, according to the Waterloo Catholic District School Board. 

Chief managing officer John Shewchuk said the Catholic board is "pleased" the school has been temporarily shuttered. 

"We asked public health for the closure out of an abundance of caution and in support of the health and well-being of our school community," said Shewchuk. 

"We know it will give our families and our staff the confidence to return to learning in a way that feels healthy and safe." 

Shewchuk said most cases are tied to two cohorts at the school, which suggests an early case may have been missed. Still, Shewchuk said the board is confident in the strength of its public health protocols. 

The Waterloo Catholic District School Board said it requested the closure out of an abundance of caution. (Gary Graves/CBC)

'Wake-up call'

Union head Patrick Etmanski said he, too, is pleased with the decision to close the school. The period leading up to the closure, though, has been a "brutal" one for teachers and other educators, he said. 

"We don't know who's sick or or what's going on," said Etmanski, president of the Waterloo region branch of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association. 

"They've been going to school every day just sort of waiting to hear what's next, and it's a very disheartening and difficult situation to be in on a daily basis."

Etmanski said the closure should serve as a "wake-up call" about how quickly cases can still spread. 

"We need to go back to where we were six months ago and and maintain those protocols that are so important," he said.

The closure comes as Waterloo region prepares to vaccinate children between the ages of 5 and 11 beginning Friday.

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