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Class bubbles and schools closing again? N.W.T. experts take COVID-19 and education questions

What happens if a student tests positive for COVID-19? The N.W.T.'s chief public health officer and an Education Department assistant deputy minister took your latest questions on education and COVID-19 on Thursday.

Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Kami Kandola and Education official John MacDonald answer your questions

Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Kami Kandola, left, and Education Department assistant deputy minister John MacDonald took people's questions live on The Trailbreaker Thursday. (Kate Kyle/CBC/Submitted by N.W.T. government)

What happens if a student tests positive for COVID-19? Should grandparents stop seeing their grandchildren once they're back in school? 

The N.W.T.'s chief public health officer and N.W.T. Education Department assistant deputy minister John MacDonald took your latest COVID-19 and education-related questions Thursday on CBC's The Trailbreaker.

Since the last call-in show at the end of July, a worker from Alberta tested positive for COVID-19 at the territory's Diavik Diamond Mine, and has since returned home. The office of the N.W.T. chief public health officer said Tuesday that it has closed its investigation, and determined there's no risk to communities in the territory.

The territory's public health emergency has been extended for the tenth time, through to Aug. 18.

Yellowknife school boards got their reopening risk assessment plans approved by the territory, and said in letters to families Tuesday that students are on track to be back in school, in-person, this fall. The territorial government has also announced two new grants for post-secondary students, as part of its COVID-19 relief measures.

Here are your latest questions:

How confident are you that reopening schools this fall is safe?

"I'm quite confident," said Kandola, the chief public health officer.

She said her office has been working with the territory's Department of Education and "spent hours reviewing every school proposal" to reopen, and is in the process of approving all of them.

"Through our review of all mitigation measures presented, we feel like we can enter the fall with a good step forward," said Kandola.

I'm in a bubble with my grandchildren. Once they go back to school, where does that leave us?

Kandola said you can still remain in a bubble with your grandchildren, because she has no reason to believe there's community transmission in the N.W.T., and there are strict travel restrictions.

"At this point, it is extremely safe for you," said Kandola.  

She said there will be many safety measures in schools to prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

"I would say continue with your bubble with your grandchildren. We'll monitor the situation as the fall begins," she said. 

"The only scenario when we would ask you to limit your bubble, [is] if there was a case of COVID[-19] in the class of your grandchild."

But that scenario has not yet occurred in the territory, said Kandola. 

If you see a rise in COVID-19 cases in N.W.T., would schools go back to distance learning?

"Not necessarily," said Kandola.

She said there are measures in place like travel restrictions and contact tracing, so cases in the community wouldn't necessarily mean her office would advise to shut down schools.

"We have many lines of defences to minimize the impact on schools," said Kandola.

Then what if a child has COVID-19 in a classroom?

"Even if we had a child in the class that had COVID[-19] ... [we] don't necessarily have to close the whole school," said Kandola.

She said in that situation, that particular class and teacher could be isolated, and the rest of the school could continue as normal. 

Kandola said every school's plan includes a dedicated isolation room where a child can be placed if they show symptoms. The child can then be picked up by family and be tested.

Kandola asked parents to monitor their children for symptoms like runny nose, headaches or a cough, and to keep them at home if they have symptoms.

There will also be a school outbreak protocol, according to Kandola. That would come in place if students test positive at a school. Even in that situation, depending on the extent of the students' contacts, it won't mean other classrooms would be impacted and the school would close.

"It depends on that child's behaviour and their contacts," said Kandola.

There will be classroom 'bubbles,' but what about safety at after-school programs where kids from multiple classrooms are together?

Education official MacDonald said after-school programs will also follow directions from the public health office. 

He said his department works with some programs to make sure they're following safety measures. 

"There's not much to worry about there, in terms of ensuring there are protocols in place in those instances," he said, although measures for programs may look different from junior kindergarten to Grade 12.

Missed the call-in show? Watch it here: 

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