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It's still early, but no positive COVID-19 cases after Deer Lake school exposure yet

Newfoundland and Labrador English School District CEO Tony Stack (Source: Government of Newfoundland and Labrador)
Newfoundland and Labrador English School District CEO Tony Stack. - Contributed

It’s too early to say for sure the outcome of the COVID-19 exposure at Elwood Elementary School in Deer Lake, but lessons are being learned already to inform the school district’s response to future outbreaks.

A student tested positive for the coronavirus on Monday morning, meaning the incubation period for other exposures is still within the 14-day window. But Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald says the news out of Deer Lake has been good, so far.

“Everybody in the cohort was tested. I believe there was some that had to be retested. Not because of positivity, but technical reasons. We’ve had no positives in that group,” said Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald estimates 30 people are currently isolating, including children in the cohort and teachers and staff who have risked exposure.

Newfoundland and Labrador English School District CEO Tony Stack says one positive from the situation so far is how quickly communication between the school district and public health officials allowed containment.

“Things have worked well in that respect, in terms of timely information, accurate information and sound advice, with respect to the schools,” said Stack.

“We exercised it and now we’ve actually done it. That’s a good thing.”

The positive test for the student in Deer Lake came back around 8 a.m. on Monday, and the school day was cancelled before it began.

“It’s too early for a full list of lessons learned, but what we have done for the first time is we have that one cohort, that one class that’s fully affected. … We are de facto running that class under Scenario 3, which is virtual learning,” said Stack.

Given the students are elementary students, virtual learning means an hour a day of time in front of the laptop, dealing directly with teachers. Those sessions are being broken up through the day, to avoid one large virtual class and the difficulties with distraction that can come with that situation.

There already exists a virtual classroom of 20 students in the province with extreme vulnerability to the coronavirus, which Stack says has informed the scenario for the students in Deer Lake.

Stack says the situation and the COVID-19 pandemic more broadly has accelerated the school district’s move toward new areas of study, which are easier to teach in a virtual environment.

“We really feel that even in normal times we should be focusing on citizenship, character, creativity, collaboration, critical thinking and communications — those six Cs, we call them,” said Stack.

“This forces you to change and adapt to different learning environments. It compels partnerships, internally, across grade levels, or even bringing in external actors through virtual means. All of those things are part of what we feel is the way we need to go in terms of education. In some respects, COVID is prompting that agenda.”

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1 being least likely, and 10 being most likely

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