With confirmed cases of the new coronavirus on the rise the first week of March according to public health officials, a number of school boards, colleges and universities in the Hamilton area are taking no chances, cancelling March break trips and taking preventative measures in and around their facilities.
Three school boards have told Global News they have cancelled or postponed March break trips overseas in connection to the COVID-19 outbreak.
The Brant Haldimand Norfolk Catholic District School Board (BHNCDSB), Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board (HWCDSB) and Grand Erie District School Board (GEDSB) confirmed trips during the week of March 16 have been wiped out.
BHNCDSB spokesperson Tracey Austin says a trip to Ireland for Holy Trinity Catholic High School in Simcoe has been nixed, while a trip to Italy and France for Cathedral High School has also been cancelled by the HWCDSB, according to spokesperson Marnie Jadon.
“Fourteen senior students and two staff were scheduled to take part. The trip itinerary included visits to Paris, Venice via Milan, Florence and Rome,” said Jadon.
“Another trip to Italy, France and Spain by St. John Henry Newman Catholic Secondary School was cancelled earlier in the year due to insufficient interest, not because of the health risk.”
Excursions to Ireland and Scotland were called off for some Hagersville Secondary School students, and Simcoe Composite School has postponed a trip to France until March 2021, according to the GEDSB.
Meanwhile, the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB) says it has no trips planned for March but depending on the impact of the virus in the community going forward, the school board will consider its options as directed through a COVID-19 workgroup formed by the board in January.
HWDSB spokesperson Shawn McKillop says the school’s workgroup includes members of the city’s public health team and meets regularly to address the virus’s potential effect on its schools.
“Highlights of our response to date is that we promote general preventative measures, use of alcohol-based hand sanitizers, and the direction to not wear masks in schools,” said McKillop.
Meanwhile, Jadon with the HWCDSB says its schools are taking similar measures and have implemented additional steps in their daily cleaning process as a precautionary measure.
Both the Halton District School Board and Halton District Catholic School Board continue to send out regular updates through Halton’s medical officer of health, who recommends against travel to a number of Asian countries as well as Italy during March break.
So far there have been no reported cases of COVID-19 from the school systems in Hamilton and area. In late February, McMaster University did track a student who was in self-isolation after returning from a trip to Italy.
Andrea Farquhar from McMaster says the individual eventually tested negative. Farquhar says since the incident, the school has gone above and beyond what’s been recommended by health authorities in regard to cleaning protocols around campus.
“We wanted to provide some comfort for people just to say, you know what, we’ve taken extra precautions to make sure you feel comfortable being in the building,” Farquhar told Global News.
McMaster activated a “crisis management” team in the middle of January and has had regular meetings to construct a “pandemic plan.” The university says it’s been continually updating its plan as the federal government updates its advisories.
Farquhar says it’s been business as usual for students and staff since news of the student’s potential infection.
“I think the anxiety level generally, it’s not just at the university, it’s across our community. ”
Spokesperson Bill Steinburg from Mohawk College says it also has a team set up to monitor a potential outbreak in the school and area following public health guidelines.
“We have a team that meets regularly to assess the situation as it evolves,” said Steinberg. “We have been sending out regular updates on the situation to our staff and students, reminding them of good hygiene practices and encouraging them not to come to work or class when they are feeling ill.”
Mohawk has also installed additional hand sanitizer stations and implemented additional cleaning protocols, according to Steinberg.
Dan Dakin, a spokesperson for Brock University, says it is also following public health guidelines for all of its campuses and has been sending out regular updates through the school’s website.
Redeemer University spokesperson Shannon McBride says the school has no changes in any routines, but has a campaign alerting students to take precautions.
“Redeemer has not made any significant changes to regular schedules or routines,” said McBride. “We have urged the Redeemer community to take the usual precautions for infection control, such as proper hand hygiene.”
As of March 3, public health has confirmed 33 cases of COVID-19 in Canada, with 22 in Ontario.