Nfld. & Labrador

Newfoundland schools adjust health measures as COVID-19 outbreak grows

Schools in different parts of Newfoundland are adapting to COVID-19 exposures in their areas as new cases continue to rise in the central region of the island.

Health Department recommending measures for 'high-risk' scenario for schools in Twillingate area

Schools in eastern and central Newfoundland have COVID-19 cases connected to them and are adjusting their strategies. (Mike Moore/CBC)

Schools in different parts of Newfoundland are adapting to COVID-19 exposures in their areas as new cases continue to rise in the island's central region.

On Sunday, Dr. Monika Dutt, medical officer of health for Central Health, issued a statement recommending schools in the Twillingate area adopt measures under the "high-risk" scenario outlined under the province's return to school plan for 2021. One exception includes keeping playgrounds open.

On Monday a spokesperson for the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District confirmed MSB Academy in Middle Arm, Twillingate Island Elementary in Twillingate and J.M. Olds Collegiate in Twillingate will operate under high-risk protocols.

A COVID-19 cluster originally located in Baie Verte shifted into the Twillingate area late last week. As of Sunday the central Newfoundland cluster was still under investigation and had 75 confirmed cases connected to it.

Health officials have said the coronavirus's delta variant has been the cause of the outbreak. 

"It is concerning, but I think we're seeing some positive changes in the Baie Verte Peninsula area and now we're working through trying to have the same types of changes in terms of less impact of COVID-19 in other parts of central," Dutt told CBC Radio's Newfoundland Morning on Monday.

Twillingate, New World Island and communities accessed via Route 340, starting at and including Boyd's Cove, moved to Alert Level 3 effective midnight on Saturday.

On Sunday, Central Health informed families of students at Twillingate Island Elementary that a member of the school community had tested positive for COVID-19. Some families received notifications from the health authority because their child was identified as a "high-risk contact" through contact tracing by public health workers.

Central Health said if the child attended school on Sept. 10, 17 or 20 they may have been a close contact of the person who tested positive.

Children who were considered close contacts must self-isolate for 14 days, and were being asked to get tested at the Twillingate clinic at the George Hawkins Arena on Sunday. Testing continues throughout areas of central Newfoundland on Monday.

On Tuesday, the Department of Health announced that two cases of COVID-19 have been identified at Macdonald Drive Elementary. (Macdonald Drive Elementary/Twitter)

The Baie Verte area had the lowest uptake for COVID-19 vaccines in the province, with the lowest percentage of people who have two doses. Dutt said that is beginning to change. 

"We have seen an increased interest [in vaccines], which is fantastic. We have seen people coming forward for their first doses," said Dutt.

"If this is what motivates you to think, 'Oh, I wasn't sure but now I'm going to get it,' book [an appointment] and we are very happy to provide vaccines to anyone [eligible] who is interested."

6 schools connected to COVID cases

Meanwhile, on Newfoundland's east coast, a letter sent to families of Macdonald Drive Elementary in St. John's on Sunday night confirmed a third case of COVID-19 connected to the school community, forcing some changes for students attending class in person. 

Two cases connected to the school were reported Tuesday.

Students who did not receive a notification from the Health Department through SchoolMessenger as of 9 p.m. Sunday night are not considered close contacts, and were expected to be in school Monday morning.

Those who were considered close contacts should have received a message, according to the letter.

As the Health Department investigates the latest exposure within the school's community, the school will operate with enhanced COVID-19 protocols, according to the NLESD.

The following measures are in effect until further notice:

  • Cohorting and physical distancing where possible.
  • The se of non-medical masks for all students from kindergarten to Grade 3, including in classrooms, all common areas and on buses.
  • Students in grades 4 to 6 are still required to wear masks while attending school including in classrooms, all common areas and while on the bus.
  • Extracurricular activities and field trips are suspended until further notice. Individual classes are encouraged to spend time outdoors during the school day when possible.
  • Virtual gatherings are prioritized. There will be no assemblies.
  • Enhanced cleaning measures will be implemented, in line with 2020-21 measures.
  • No community use of schools until further notice.

Six schools in Newfoundland have now had COVID-19 exposures since classes began earlier this month.

The schools are New World Island Academy in Summerford, which is moving to online learning on Sept. 28, Macdonald Drive Elementary in St. John's, MSB Academy in Middle Arm, Twillingate Island Elementary in Twillingate, J.M. Olds Collegiate in Twillingate and Lakewood Academy in Glenwood, which is operating within "low-risk" protocols.

"Every case is unique, and public health has recommended different measures be implemented at different schools based on their investigations into each case," the NLESD said in an emailed statement.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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