4 COVID-19 outbreaks in 3 days at Hamilton elementary schools

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Published September 23, 2021 at 8:27 pm

Immaculate Heart of Mary is one of three Stoney Creek elementary schools that have an active COVID-19 outbreak. (HWCDSB photo)

Over half of Hamilton’s active COVID-19 outbreaks now reside in educational settings, after four were declared in elementary schools within the past three days.

Two of the schools with outbreaks among children who are too young to receive the COVID-19 vaccine are less than 5 kilometres apart in Stoney Creek. They are relatively close to another Stoney Creek elementary school that has a double-digit active case count. Cases among schoolchildren and staff are often transmitted elsewhere in the community, and not necessarily in the schools.

Hamilton Public Health declared two elementary-school outbreaks on Thursday (Sept. 23). One is at Central Elementary School in the lower city, and the other is at Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Elementary School.

Wednesday, the public health unit declared one at Lawfield Elementary School on the east Mountain (two students). Another was declared at South Meadow Elementary School (three students) on Tuesday.

Immaculate Heart of Mary and South Meadow are about 4.4 km apart in Stoney Creek.

They are also both within a 10-km drive of Tapleytown E.S., which has had 11 confirmed cases since the first was reported on Sept. 17.

There was a similar pattern last week when St. James the Apostle (Catholic board) and Shannon Koostachin (public), which are about 3 km apart, had outbreaks at the same time.

The Central and Immaculate Heart of Mary outbreaks are listed on their school boards’ respective COVID-19 advisory pages. The City of Hamilton lists 17 other active outbreaks, eight of which are in schools or daycares.

The public health unit declares an outbreak  when there are “two or more lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases in students and/or staff (or other visitors) in a school with an epidemiological link, within a 14-day period, where at least one case could have reasonably acquired their infection in the school (including transportation and before/after school care).”

Ontario’s public schools, under Premier Doug Ford and Education Minister Stephen Lecce, with guidance from medical officers is health, are following a last-to-close, first-to-open principle to try to keep schools open. It is believed that benefit to children’s mental health trumps the risks from infection.

Parents and students are expected to screen for symptoms of the virus each morning. There has also been a stated investment in improved ventilation in schools and efforts to limit social contact during school days.

Less spending on education

Groups such as the Ontario Parent Action Network say the province has not sufficiently invested in reducing class sizes and funding a hybrid model. They say the current approach leaves children, including those 11 and under who are too young to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, are in classrooms with upwards of 25 people for hours at a time.

Last week, Ontario’s Financial Accountability Office said the Ford government spent nearly 25 per cent less on education in the first quarter of its fiscal year compared to the same period in 2020-21. It spent $1.7 billion, or 24.1 per cent less, “largely due to the government’s decision in 2020 to temporarily defer municipal Education Property Tax payments for 90 days.”

Rain not helping

Heavy rains in Southern Ontario this week has also kept students from going outside at lunch hour and recess, where there is less chance of tranmissions.

The other outbreaks at schools or daycares are in

  • Kids & Company daycare in Waterdown (Sept. 21)
  • Tapleytown Elementary School (Sept. 18)
  • Huntington Park E.S. (Sept. 15)
  • St. Thomas More Catholic Secondary School (Sept. 13)
  • Heritage Green Child Care Inc. (Sept. 10).

The Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB) says it has had 17 new confirmed student cases in the last two days (Sept. 22-23).

Ten are in elementary schools that are not in outbreaks — Bellmoore (2), Bennetto, Chedoke, Lisgar (2), Helen Detwiler,  Norwood Park, Prince of Wales and Ryerson.

The Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board lists 18 active cases among students and staff. It says it has closed 18 classes and cohorts. A cohort is the class a high school student spends half their day with in the quadmester format, where they take two courses at a time instead of the regular four.

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