Ottawa

Parents want schools to aid contact tracing over holiday season

Parents with children in eastern Ontario's French public school board are concerned over a lack of contact tracing during the holiday season, especially as most children can't access a PCR test.

Staff, students, parents only notified of case if someone tests positive on a PCR test

Children in French school boards across eastern Ontario began their holiday break on Friday while children in English school boards ended class last week. (Christian Milette/Radio-Canada)

Some parents are concerned children have been sent home with undetected exposures to COVID-19 and they're on their own to conduct contact tracing as the holiday break officially begins for local students in French school boards.

Since the start of the pandemic, teachers, students and parents are only notified of a confirmed case in their classroom if someone tests positive on a PCR test conducted at a local testing centre, but not for a rapid test, often conducted at home.

The availability of PCR tests is extremely limited due to skyrocketing demand in the community and parents like Mindy Sichel, who has a child within Conseil des écoles publiques de l'Est de l'Ontario (CEPEO), are worried that will lead to children who have been exposed to COVID-19 and have no idea.

"The whole system with schools starts with that PCR test, and if you don't have that PCR test, then the school will not do anything," said Sichel, whose child is in Grade 6 at École élémentaire publique Francojeunesse.

If a child tests positive on a rapid test, they will stay home, but high-risk contacts won't know unless parents notify one another.

"Does this mean that if my kid brings home COVID or if another kid in his class has it, we're not even going to know about it? It's just like a terrifying black hole of not knowing what's going to happen. And it's really disappointing," she said.

Local public health officials have urged anyone with a COVID-19 symptom who can't access a PCR test to self-isolate for 10 days as the most protective approach to avoid spreading the virus.

Dr. Shoshanah Deaton says school boards should take rapid tests at face value and begin to notify close contacts once a child tests positive, instead of waiting for results of a PCR test. (Celeste Decaire/CBC)

Doctor wants more from children's school board

Dr. Shoshanah Deaton is a family doctor who also helps run the Rockland COVID-19 Assessment Centre. She has two children who attend a CEPEO school and she wants the board to help with contact tracing over the holiday season.

She also believes schools should begin reaching out to high-risk close contacts once a child tests positive on a rapid antigen test, instead of waiting for the results of a PCR test.

"Accept some responsibility in being proactive and notifying families because the schools have all of the information and are able to communicate rapidly and effectively through mass emails," Deaton said.

She wants an after-hours approach during the holiday break so parents can communicate directly with the board "and expect that the message would be disseminated amongst the parents of the school."

Deaton says the board told her they wouldn't be able to fulfil her requests, and she pulled her children from school last week.

Each of her children has one dose of the pediatric COVID-19 vaccine and she remains unsure if they'll return to in-person learning come January. 

CEPEO did not respond to requests for comment before publish time. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Celeste Decaire

CBC Reporter

Celeste Decaire is a reporter with CBC Ottawa. She can be reached at celeste.decaire@cbc.ca and on her Twitter account @celestedecaire.

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