HPPH confirms first school-related exposure of COVID-19; risk is low

While investigating a recent confirmed case of COVID-19, Huron Perth Public Health (HPPH) has determined that a member of the school community at St. Joseph’s Catholic Elementary School in Stratford is a probable case of COVID-19. HPPH investigators have determined that the case was at the school when they may have been infectious.

“In this case, this is a low-risk situation for the school community and the public at large,” says Dr. Miriam Klassen, Medical Officer of Health. “However, out of an abundance of caution, we will be taking the situation seriously to prevent the possible spread of the virus in a school.”

During a case and contact investigation into the confirmed case, HPPH determined that the school community member was a suspect, and then probable, case. A probable case of COVID-19 is currently defined as a case where a physician strongly suspects COVID-19 and additional factors are involved, including:

  • Patient has travel history and/or
  • Patient has contact with a known case and/or
  • Patient has symptoms but testing has not been carried out.

Please note that all individuals awaiting testing results are not probable cases. As well, probable and suspect cases do not appear on the HPPH website of confirmed case counts. “Public health only reports confirmed cases received through testing for surveillance purposes to help us understand the burden of disease in our community,” explains Dr. Klassen.

“Knowing how much interest there is in our schools and in keeping them open, and because this is the first school-related exposure in our area, we’d like to again inform the public about our process for managing confirmed or probable cases in schools,” adds Dr. Klassen. Going forward, HPPH will not routinely comment on individual probable or confirmed cases in a school setting, unless there is an outbreak or there are other public health considerations for the community at large.

HPPH manages both confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 in the same way. In this case, notification has been sent to parents, guardians and staff of the school community. Initial close contacts were notified of the situation from HPPH case investigators. Close contacts of the probable case have been advised to stay home from school and to quarantine.

Due to privacy considerations, HPPH will not be disclosing publicly any further details about the probable case, or the number of close contacts at the school. The school continues to be open, and this low-risk situation is not an outbreak.

Huron Perth Public Health is working with the Huron Perth Catholic District School Board (HPCDSB), school administration and members of the school community to determine next steps and provide additional support. Students and families should follow the direction of public health and HPCDSB.

“I am confident in the assessment from public health that the risk to our school community is low,” says Chris N. Roehrig, Director of Education of the Huron Perth Catholic District School Board. “We are working closely with public health and are committed to following the processes established by the Ministry of Education and Public Health organizations to limit the spread of COVID-19 in our school community.”

As the virus continues to circulate in our community, the public should remember they play a vital role in helping reduce the spread of COVID-19 in our schools. Continue to practice good hand hygiene, maintain physical distancing, wear a face covering, stay at home if you are sick and download the COVID-19 Alert mobile app; these are all important steps we can all take to protect our schools and our communities from COVID-19.

“This is a reminder that COVID-19 is still present in our region and that keeping our schools as safe as possible will take a community-wide effort,” says Dr. Klassen. “It’s important that we maintain the public health measures that will reduce the spread in our communities. Fewer cases in our community means fewer cases in our schools.”

Huron Perth Public Health’s School Health Team works directly with every school in our region to help schools maximize public health measures that will help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in school and manage cases that occur.

 

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