Concerns raised over N.S. COVID-19 alert protocols following school exposures

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WATCH: Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil reported on Tuesday there were five new cases of COVID-19 in the province and said he understood people may be scared after two of the cases were reported among students in the province's Central Zone – Nov 17, 2020

Students at Auburn Drive High School in Westphal, N.S., say there were lots of rumors going around on Monday about a positive COVID-19 case among their classmates.

“That certain people had it, certain people were just making it up, that everyone was getting closed out of school, said Kieran Cassista, a Grade 10 student at the school.

“A lot of other students were nervous, they were kind of freaking out, the class got panicky,” said Caetlyn Ott.

READ MORE: Nova Scotia reports first cases of COVID-19 in schools

It wasn’t until long after the final bell had rung and students had gone home that public health confirmed a student at Auburn Drive High School had tested positive and there was exposure at the school on Nov. 13. They also confirmed a second student at nearby Graham Creighton Junior High had also tested positive.

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“Staff at Graham Creighton received an email around 6:15, staff at Auburn Drive didn’t get an email until 8 o’clock last night,” says Paul Wozney, president of the Nova Scotia Teacher’s Union.

“There’s a lot of concerns around the lack of communication and lack of disclosure.”

Parents also reported receiving notice Monday evening between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m., but by then many had already heard the news through media reports.

Read more: ‘We are starting to see community spread’: Officials issue stern warning to Nova Scotians

“I think it should be quicker than what seemed to happen yesterday,” said parent Kym Tymkow who’s daughter attends Auburn Drive High School.

Despite a letter sent out later that night confirming all close contacts had been contacted and were isolating for 14 days, Tymkow still chose to keep her daughter home from school.

“Just because I want to make sure there are no other cases that pop up from people who were infected. I’m a high risk, my parents are high risk, I don’t want to take the chance.”

While another note home indicated that students who are required to self-isolate will be supported through continued learning, Tymkow said her daughter who chose to stay home had not been provided anything, and says the process can be confusing.

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Read more: NSTU prepare for distance learning plan: ‘We have no road map for what we’re dealing with’

“I think there needs to be a more concrete plan when it comes to giving families the opportunity to school from home,” said Tymkow.

She also questioned if the school should have been closed altogether Tuesday — something Wozney says many parents and staff have questioned.

“If your local grocery store had a confirmed case of COVID they close the store, scrub it from top to bottom, yet schools were opened same day,” he said.

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Coronavirus: How dangerous are high-touch surfaces in school? – Sep 2, 2020

During a COVID-19 update on Tuesday Premier Stephen McNeil said that schools had enhanced cleaning protocols this year.

“Our department has been working with those schools to ensure an overnight crew does an even deeper dive to sanitize the school,” said McNeil.

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Read more: Schools still open amid Canadian coronavirus resurgence. But for how long?

Both McNeil and Dr. Robert Strang also reiterated that they have a robust return-to-school plan that includes ways to accommodate at-home learning and they will shut down a school if need be.

“We are nowhere near that with these two schools,” said Strang.

“The appropriate steps have been made to identify classroom contacts, bus contacts, we’ve got those people all at home isolating. I am very comfortable with the approach we’re taking.”

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