Windsor school outbreaks leading to more confirmed cases, health unit says

As school cases continue to rise, with two outbreaks reported at Windsor locations this week, the health unit says the spread is already evident as high-risk contacts are testing positive for the disease. 

The health unit reported 45 new cases Friday

Windsor-Essex County Health Unit reported 45 new cases for the region Friday. (Vince Robinet/CBC)

As cases in Windsor's school system continue to rise, health officials say they're already seeing the impact through community spread. 

In the last week, the health unit has declared two COVID-19 outbreaks in schools.

Frank W. Begley Elementary School was completely shut down after three positive cases were reported, sending more than 400 students home. Just a day later, the health unit announced another outbreak at W. J. Langlois Catholic Elementary School, dismissing about 20 students and staff. 

"As we are dealing with the outbreaks in the school and people are getting tested — those high risk contacts are actually becoming cases," chief nursing officer at the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit Theresa Marentette said Friday.

"In today's number, that's what we're seeing is that some of these new cases were actually high risk contacts related to the schools."

Marentette could not confirm the total number of cases that school outbreaks have led to though she said that cases are on the rise. 

The region's medical officer of health Dr. Wajid Ahmed said the community is at risk of outbreaks in other schools. 

Medical officer of health for Windsor-Essex Dr. Wajid Ahmed says private social gatherings need to stop 'immediately' as they are the main source of spread in the region. (Susan Walsh/The Associated Press)

On Friday, during the health unit's COVID-19 briefing, 45 new cases were reported for Windsor-Essex. 

Of these, 13 are close contacts of a confirmed case, seven are community acquired, four are travel related, two are local health care workers, one is an agri-farm worker and 18 are under investigation. 

Ahmed said it's important now more than ever to limit the number of close contacts because "you never know who is infected." As a result, he said that "social, private gatherings must stop immediately, because that's primarily the sole source of acquisition."

He also made a point to note that essential workers travelling to Michigan need to be "mindful, to be vigilant of what they are doing and use that responsibility very carefully ... we also don't want them to use that as an opportunity to misrepresent themselves and do things which they are not supposed to do in the name of being essential workers." 

There are three long-term care and retirement homes in outbreak, though Ahmed said these are stabilized and close to being rescinded.

As for the outbreaks in Leamington's agriculture industry and a University of Windsor residence, Ahmed said these are contained and should be in the clear soon. 

There are 230 active cases in the region. 

Region could move into province's orange or 'restrict' category 

On Friday, the province updates each municipality's COVID-19 category. 

Last week, Windsor-Essex entered the yellow or 'protect' category and with cases rising Ahmed said we will have to "wait and see" whether the region moves up yet again.  

"The numbers definitely are concerning for our region and based on the number it does require some strong action on our part, on everyone's part," Ahmed said. 

F. W. Begley Public School in Windsor is experiencing a COVID-19 outbreak. All staff and students are to remain at home for the next 14 days. (Katerina Georgieva/CBC)

Though he did implement additional restrictions last week, on top of the restrictions listed under the province's yellow category, Ahmed said it does take time to see the result of those restrictions. 

"We are watching that, so if needed, if more restrictions are needed, if more action is needed to limit and control the spread, we will do that," he said. 

Outbreaks straining resources

As of Nov. 19, Ahmed said there are seven community outbreaks. 

These outbreaks, he said, are straining public health resources and creating a lag in their ability to reach out to people in a timely manner. 

The school outbreak alone had more than 400 people needing to be contacted. 

"We are seeing that from our health system partners and even managing these cases in the school system is also impacting public health's ability to reach out and follow up [with] all those people," Ahmed said.  

Marentette said that they have been using school nurses to perform case and contact management and continue to hire new staff to keep up. 

INTERACTIVE | Use this map to find local COVID-19 outbreaks in schools


She said they may have to delay vaccine distribution for elementary grades to use those staff members for COVID-19 management. 

"The increase in cases is really impacting our staff," Marentette said. "The surge so quickly has really impacted their ability to do all the work in a timely fashion." 

As for the ability of hospitals to handle patients, Ahmed said the local ICU bed capacity is approaching a level that could be of concern so that if there is an increased need the "system will be pressed for that."