Omicron case in Saskatoon schools should elicit caution not panic: pediatrician

Parents and staff at three Saskatoon elementary schools were notified of a single probable case of Omicron that was linked to each of them. On Friday, the Saskatchewan Health Authority said it that case of Omicron has been confirmed.

All COVID-19 cases being screened for variants, like Omicron: Sask. Health Authority

Classes are being held as normal today before the holiday break. (AFP/Getty Images)

People should be vigilant about taking pandemic safety measures after a case of the COVID-19 Omicron variant was linked to three Saskatoon elementary schools, according to Dr. Ayisha Kurji.

Schools are a good indication of how COVID-19 and its variants are circulating in the community, said Kurji, a pediatrician an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Saskatchewan.

"It's not panic time in terms of locking down everything at this moment, but it means we should all be cautious and be doing everything in our power to keep ourselves protected," she said.

Staff, parents and guardians at Silverwood Heights, Vincent Massey and Caswell Community elementary schools received a letter from the Saskatchewan Health Authority on Wednesday stating that someone with a probable case of the variant had been at the schools.

A spokesperson for the Saskatoon Public Schools division told CBC News on Thursday that the person didn't have contact with any students. 

The provincial health authority provided more information on Friday, telling CBC News in an emailed statement that a public health investigation into the case found the adult had been exposed to the variant through someone who had travelled. It also said that nobody within the schools is considered a close contact. 

"All proper protocols including masking, were followed when the individual was infectious. We are not able to provide further details, in order to protect the privacy of the individual," it said.

School policy

Veronica Baker, a spokesperson for the school board, said that classes, which wrap up for the holidays on Friday, continued as normal throughout the week. 

When asked if the school board would consider adjusting class sizes or changing policy in response to the appearance of the variant, Baker said: "Our school division works with local public health officials regarding cases. Based on this guidance, if changes to operations at our schools are required, we are ready to adjust."

Kurji expects another wave of COVID-19 and is encouraging people to stay on guard.

She said people should be masking, keeping gatherings small and getting a third dose of COVID-19 vaccines, which data shows provides better protection from Omicron. 

All cases of COVID-19 being screened for variant

The health authority said that all COVID-19 cases are being screened by a single nucleotide polymorphism test. It quickly identifies samples that are likely to be a specific variant, which is why the case was considered probable by health officials. 

According to the health authority, all COVID-19 cases then undergo further sequencing to determine the lineage of the case, at which point it can be confirmed.

On Thursday, the province reported there had been five total cases of the Omicron variant. It is unclear if this case has been included in that total.