Thunder Bay

Growing COVID-19 cases leads to two Thunder Bay schools closed to in-person learning

Lakehead Public Schools, with the support of the Thunder Bay District Health Unit, says Kingsway Park Public School and Westgate CVI are moving to virtual learning as of today, as a precautionary approach to the outbreak situations at the two schools.

After COVID-19 outbreaks were declared late last week, Westgate and Kingsway to operate virtually

(Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

Two Thunder Bay schools will be closed for in-person learning for at least the next week after more cases of COVID-19 were confirmed over the weekend.

The Lakehead District School Board announced that Westgate Collegiate and Vocational Institute, as well as Kingsway Park Public School, will both operate virtually this week. The board said that period could be extended if it is deemed to be required.

The Thunder Bay District Health Unit had declared outbreaks at both schools late last week after it was determined there was a possibility of spread within the school setting.

AJ Keene, one of the board's superintendents of education, on Monday said Kingsway had seven cases and Westgate had five, with that school's original case now considered to be resolved.

Rising community cases a factor in virtual learning decision

"Our original assessment of the two situations was that we did not need to move the schools to virtual learning, that they were contained within the dismissed students already. We felt comfortable with that," Keene said, adding the board's senior leadership team met late last week to discuss the outbreak declarations.

"Then on Saturday, we were made aware of three more cases at Kingsway that were school transmitted, so that worried us a little bit. Then [Sunday] we found out that there were some additional cases at Westgate that were also connected to school transmission."

Keene said rising case numbers within the community also factored into the decision to have those two schools operate virtually.

The board consulted with Thunder Bay District medical officer of health Dr. Janet DeMille, Keene added, who supported shifting those schools to virtual learning but indicated it wasn't necessary to do that for all schools.

Keene said the transition to virtual learning for Westgate is relatively easy because high schools are already operating online for half the day. He said Monday is being spent as a "transition day" for Kingsway, as students and staff prepare to operate virtually.

Multiple schools impacted by COVID-19

Also over the weekend, the public board said three cases have been identified associated with St. James Public School, but there is no evidence the virus was spread within the school.

The Thunder Bay Catholic District School Board announced confirmed cases have been identified with Corpus Christi School, Pope John Paul II School and St. Elizabeth School over the weekend.

On Monday, an outbreak was declared at St. Martin School. The board said an additional individual within a dismissed cohort has tested positive and it's considered likely that the infection was acquired within the school setting, but all other individuals within that cohort have tested negative.

The health unit had also declared an outbreak at the I.R. Churchill Elementary School, operated by the Lac Des Milles Lac Education Centre, where an individual tested positive and it is believed that the infection could have been acquired within the school setting.

DeMille issued a letter to parents, emphasizing the importance of screening children before going to school. DeMille said children should not be attending school if anyone in the household has even a single symptom of COVID-19, or has been identified as a high risk contact of a confirmed case.

Over the weekend, Dr. Janet DeMille issued a letter to parents and caregivers of school aged children in the Thunder Bay district indicating new instructions for screening and isolation protocols. (Logan Turner / CBC)

"It is vital that we work together and all do our part in keeping schools safe," DeMille said in the letter. "This is more important than ever before with the increasing case numbers in our area and the significant concern provincially and nationally with variants of concern."

Keene said he recognizes the challenges of keeping younger children, who need supervision, at home.

"There's no additional child care spots available. Lots of kids can't be with their grandparents because of the risk of COVID. We know how inconvenient it is and how difficult these times are," Keene said.

"It's very real. We know that it's spreading. Our message to parents is that as difficult and challenging it is to keep a kid home because they have a runny nose or sore throat, that's what's being asked and recommended by the health officials."