As of Tuesday afternoon, there have been eleven cases of COVID-19 among students and staff at schools within Simcoe and Muskoka. The question of how this is communicated from officials to affected families has been raised.
“Certainly there’s a lot of anxiety with regards to schools, the school exposures, the large numbers of individuals, students, teachers who’ve been put into isolation and follow up for testing,” said Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit (SMDHU) medical officer of health Dr. Charles Gardner. “There’s concern about communication, and how do we communicate with people in those situations.”
Gardner says the school board in question will inform all families of a positive test within the school, but only those families that require follow up testing will be contacted further. “Our very first action as a health unit, when we become aware of a case is to determine where they’d been who had been exposed, and therefore who needs to be approached to be put into isolation and follow up for testing,” he said. “We communicate with those individuals directly ourselves and inform those families of the situation and advise them, require them to go into isolation and to seek testing and assessment.”
He says affected households will be contacted immediately. “Knowing that its the next day that they would be at school, we focus on those individuals so they know about it before they end up back at school again.” The standard is 24 hours, Gardner says the SMDHU meets that standard.
“We follow up with them and their contacts in turn. But so far, we’ve had no evidence of transmission in schools no follow up cases,” Gardner pointed out.
Despite not receiving a follow-up call, Gardner is aware many families are choosing to keep their child or children home from school after confirmation of a case. “Certainly I can sympathize with their concern and we’d like to reassure everybody that we reach people who are high-risk contacts, we do so efficiently. And that if people haven’t been contacted by us directly, then they’re not a high-risk contact and they can return to school.”