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Local schools hit outbreak status, others in alert

Notre Dame Elementary School remains in outbreak status, while Glendon School, which was also in this category earlier in the week, has shifted to alert.

BONNYVILLE - A Bonnyville school has reached COVID-19 outbreak status, with multiple remaining in alert. 

While other schools in the Lakeland are quiet when it comes to COVID-19 cases, Bonnyville and Cold Lake-area schools are continuing to see positive incidences of the coronavirus in their facilities. 

This week, Notre Dame Elementary and Glendon School hit Alberta Health Services' (AHS) outbreak threshold, which means there were roughly five to nine people who tested positive for the coronavirus. 

Holy Cross Elementary School, Art Smith Aviation Academy, and Cold Lake High School are in alert status with two to four students or staff infected at their schools. By Thursday, Glendon School joined those in this category. 

Lakeland Catholic School Division (LCSD) Associate Superintendent Pamela Guilbault said it's the Pre-School, Grade 1, and Grade 3 students at Notre Dame Elementary School that have been impacted by their latest outbreak. 

Staff and students currently quarantining are undergoing at-home learning through Google Meets, independent work, and virtually meeting one-on-one with their teacher or student assistant. The school division provides students with devices to take home during this period. 

Students in Grades 4 to 12 at Glendon School were taking part in online learning during their outbreak period because of a staffing shortage.

"Depending on how the close contacts work, your staff might have to quarantine, and you need to have enough staff that would teach the kids that would still be in school," said Nicole Garner, communications officer for Northern Lights Public Schools (NLPS).

According to Garner, this is a fairly routine situation. 

"At the other places we've had to shift to online learning during the school year, it has normally been (due to) staffing issues, based on the number of staff in quarantine and our ability to get substitutes to fill in."

According to the AHS website, once a school has reached outbreak status, risk monitoring continues and health measures may be required. The school may move to partial in-person class or at-home learning once it has reached this level. 

"The outbreak investigation is considered over when there have been no new confirmed cases in the school for 28 days," says the AHS webpage. 

Up until this point

LCSD's Light of Christ, Holy Cross, Notre Dame Elementary School, and Dr. Bernard Brosseau School have all found themselves in outbreak status over the course of the school year. 

"We have mostly been on alert status, and we're actually quite pleased with the way our schools have dealt with and mitigated the pandemic and COVID-19 this year," expressed Guilbault. 

Garner said NLPS has been fortunate to have such few outbreaks in their schools. 

"They haven't been common, most of our cases have been one case, maybe two at a school, and then we've been at that alert level and it has come off," she detailed, adding they did have an outbreak at their Lac La Biche school and as students headed into the second half of the school year, just before the province shifted all classrooms to online learning at the end of May, they "were getting more schools at both the alert and outbreak level."

"We were starting to see a lot of cases and at a lot of different schools. It wasn't one hot spot, there were a few different schools with cases," expressed Garner. "That two-week break was good, because we did have some schools or some classes switch to online learning."

What happens when they reach alert or outbreak status

Once a school has reached AHS alert status, the first thing NLPS does is determine which staff and students were in close contact with the person who tested positive. 

"We send students and staff home that are identified as close contact," Garner explained. "Then, we do extra cleaning. Our maintenance staff and cleaners come in and do an extra deep cleaning wherever the person with COVID would have been."

Parents of the students who were in close contact are notified and given an idea of when the quarantine period can expect to end. All parents at the effected school receive a letter informing them of the situation. 

Usually, staff and students are given the all-clear to return to the classroom within 14 days, however, the school will remain in their AHS given status for four weeks. 

Garner said outbreak responses vary school-by-school and really depend on where the cases are. 

“You can have an outbreak with five kids and if it was all kids in the same class, then that doesn’t really effect the rest of the school,” she detailed, adding in other situations, those positive five cases are a blend of staff and students which results in both teachers and students having to quarantine. 

From the onset of the school year, LCSD created division-level policies and protocols that all of their schools must adhere to. 

Guilbault said they were created "in alignment with the re-entry regulations that were handed to us from Alberta Education. Those were created in cooperation with Alberta Health Services."

So, when they get word of an outbreak at one of their schools, they go down the checklist, which includes a conversation with a local medical officer. 

The school division continues to follow the same protocols such as hand washing and sanitizing, cleaning, and social distancing, noted Guilbault. 

"We're ensuring that even though most people are going for their vaccinations and aged 12 and up are eligible, we want to ensure our schools are as safe as possible for all of our staff and students... We're not taking any chances at all."

Looking ahead

Garner said NLPS really has staff, parents, and students to thank for keeping their positive COVID cases so low throughout the pandemic. 

"We only have a week-and-a-half left, and we're really hoping we can finish the year strong, and hopefully none of the year-end activities that we like to participate in - our high school graduations, our Grade 8, 4, and 3 graduations, all of those year-end field trips within the rules, and all of these celebrations - that they can go ahead and nobody misses out on those," she stressed. "We just really need everyone to continue doing what they've been doing in order to allow our students to have those opportunities."

Guilbault agreed that their staff have been working hard to keep their numbers down. 

"We are really grateful for the diligence of our staff and our custodial staff keeping our schools clean and safe." 

Meagan MacEachern, Bonnyville Nouvelle