Hamilton students at heightened risk of close-contact with a COVID-19 case


Published December 29, 2021 at 7:14 pm

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A pupil in a typical Hamilton classroom has a better than 50/50 chance of encountering a classmate with an active case of COVID-19, says a prominent biostatistician.

On Wednesday, Ryan Imgrund shared risk assessments for schoolchildren across all 34 public health precincts. The data was dropped while Ontario Premier Doug Ford and his cabinet were reportedly discussing whether Ontario schools should reopen in the first week of January. The risk assessments showed a higher probability of a Hamilton student being a close-contact of COVID-19 case than their counterparts in Halton and Niagara regions.

Imgrund’s projections showed that a child in Hamilton in a classroom with at least 20 students has at least a 53.3 per cent chance of encountering someone who is infected. That jumps to 56.8 in a class of 22, and 59.8 in a class of 24.

The risk escalates further as classes get larger. A child in a class of 30 students has a 68.3 per cent risk, and it increases to 73.6 in a class of 35.

Cases in youths have a tendency to enter homes. However, while the Omicron variant of concern is more communicable than its forerunners, it’s not yet known whether it is more virulent. Children under age 18 who test positive for COVID-19 are far less likely than adults to experience severe symptoms.

Meantime, the risk for Hamilton students is higher than it is for their counterparts in neighbouring Halton and Niagara regions. A Halton student crosses the 50 per cent threshold in a class of 30 (51.6%), while a Niagara student crosses it in a class of 35 (51.4).

Both the Catholic and public boards in Hamilton have dipped into their cash reserves and used provincial funding in the past two school years in order to hire more teachers and early childhood education staff in order to reduce class sizes. In HWDSB’s case, 75 per cent of the outlay to control class sizes came out of reserves. It used $6 million, while the province, which receives COVID-19 relief funds from the federal government, provided $2 million.

At the outset of the school year, before vaccine eligibility was opened to children age 5 to 11, the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic board (HWCDSB) said it would have an average of 22-23 students in grades 4 through 8. The Hamilton-Wentworth public board (HWDSB) projected an average of 23-24 students in those grades. The projected averages for kindergarten and grades 1, 2 and 3 classes were smaller.

Anecdotal testimony from secondary school teachers indicates that high school cohorts with 30-plus students are commonplace.

Both boards collaborate with Hamilton Public Health Services on determining how to proceed with in-person schooling and remote learning.

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