The COVID-19 case count continues to climb for St. Martin Catholic Elementary School in Smithville, where Niagara Region Public Heath has confirmed three more individuals have tested positive for the coronavirus, bringing the school total to nine.
An outbreak was declared at the school on Nov. 19.
Some of these cases are related to the school outbreak, Niagara Catholic District School Board said in a media release.
The health department is not recommending the school close its doors.
“Right now we don’t think we need to send everybody home to stop the spread of infection,” said Dr. Mustafa Hirji, Niagara’s acting medical officer of health, in an interview with The St. Catharines Standard.
“We’re going to keep sending people home who are a high risk contact of someone who has already become infected, and by doing that we’ll hopefully be able to ensure everybody else is able to go to school and get their education,” he said.
Hirji said in Niagara one in seven people is associated with a school, either as a student or staff person.
“All things being equal, you’d think one out of every seven cases of COVID-19 would be affecting a school and the number is much lower than that,” said Hirji.
Schools in Niagara have recorded 70 COVID-19 cases since the start of September. In that same period, there have been more than 1,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases regionwide.
“The total numbers of infections we’re seeing associated with schools are quite low,” Hirji said. “We’ve also not had very many actual outbreaks — I think this is only the third outbreak where we’ve had infection spreading in a school.”
Public health has offered to facilitate voluntary, on-site testing Thursday for any St. Martin staff who have not yet been tested for COVID-19.
The tests will be conducted by trained members of Niagara Emergency Medical Services and Niagara Region Public Health.
Testing for staff is recommended, but not mandatory, said the board release.
“Niagara Region Public Health has no plans to do group testing of students, recommending that any parents who wish to have their children tested for COVID-19 do so at a testing centre in Niagara.”
The provincial database that reports on school-related COVID-19 cases in Ontario has identified two of six cases at St. Martin as staff and the remainder as students. The other three cases remain unknown as the provincial database lags behind school boards in its case reporting.
Hirji said he believes St. Martin and Niagara Catholic’s health and safety protocols are not an issue.
“Every time we find out about a case, we do have people go out to the school, assess what’s happening, and give them some advice and coaching on how to improve those protocols… we’re not seeing serious issues with St. Martin,” he said.
— With files from Karena Walter
Sean Vanderklis is a Niagara-based reporter for the Niagara Falls Review. His reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative. Reach him via email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Sean Vanderklis, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Niagara Falls Review