Nova Scotia·Eskasoni Community Bureau

Schools close due to COVID-19 outbreak in Eskasoni

More than 250 active cases of COVID-19 has prompted the Eskasoni School Board to cancel its classes until April 19.

Classes will be cancelled until April 19, measure intended as a circuit breaker.

A sign welcomes visitors to the Eskasoni First Nation. The close-knit community in Cape Breton is experiencing a rapid rise in COVID-19 cases. (Erin Pottie/CBC)

This story is part of a series from CBC's Eskasoni Community Bureau, based out of the Sarah Denny Cultural Centre. This series comes from weeks of conversations with community members about what they feel is important to see, hear and read on CBC's platforms.

The Eskasoni School Board has suspended classes until April 19 as the First Nation in Cape Breton copes with an outbreak of COVID-19.

The community saw cases of COVID-19 nearly double in less than a week, with more than 260 people testing positive, resulting in fewer and fewer students going to school.

"We've seen attendance drop to well over half of our student population [being] out," said Elizabeth Cremo, director of Eskasoni's school board.

"Whether it's because they actually have COVID or they're isolating with their families ⁠— it's difficult to say."

Roughly 5,000 people live on the First Nation, located near East Bay.

Circuit breaker

Cremo said the cancellation of classes is meant to act as a circuit breaker, allowing sick students to recover and others to avoid possible infection. 

Eskasoni is the only First Nation in Cape Breton to cancel classes, according to Mi'kmaw Kina'matnewey, the Indigenous education authority in Nova Scotia.

Cases of COVID-19 in Eskasoni have nearly doubled in less than a week. (Erin Pottie/CBC)

Communications co-ordinator Shara Johnson said Mi'kmaw Kina'matnewey is monitoring the number of students who are positive with COVID-19.

Cremo said Eskasoni students may expect some extra homework in the coming weeks, but there won't be an extension of the school year. 

When students do return to the classroom in April, they can expect to continue masking, practising social distancing and following other health safety protocols. 

'Under one roof'

Among the factors leading to the pandemic's spread in Eskasoni is the number of large families who live together, said Cremo.

"Intergenerational homes where children, grandchildren, parents all live together under one roof," she said. "We have overcrowding. We have other health conditions that are prevalent in our community that kind of promote the spread.

"Once COVID makes its way in, it spreads fairly rapidly."

She said Eskasoni continues to track positive cases through calls to its community health centre.

"Our community is a tight-knit community, and they're doing everything they can to protect one another," said Cremo.

"[They] report that they're feeling symptoms or that they have COVID. And that helps us keep track of our numbers and to get help for people who are affected."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Erin Pottie

Reporter

Erin Pottie is a CBC reporter based in Sydney. She has been covering local news in Cape Breton for 15 years. Story ideas welcome at erin.pottie@cbc.ca.

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