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Regina school divisions recommending close contacts get two COVID-19 tests

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The Catholic and public school divisions in Regina are recommending close contacts of COVID-19 cases receive two tests before coming out of isolation and returning to school.

A sample letter provided to Global News from Regina Public school division said public health “strongly encourages” all close contacts be tested twice during isolation.

“It is possible to be positive for COVID and not experience any symptoms. Therefore, testing on Day 10 helps to inform whether it is appropriate to return to school once no longer required to isolate,” the letter stated.

Read more: 90% of Saskatchewan’s COVID-19 variant cases are in Regina

Both school divisions said they were acting on the direction and recommendation of public health officials.

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Global News has reached out to the Saskatchewan Health Authority via email and did not hear back before deadline. This story will be updated with their response once it is received.

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Regina Catholic school division spokesperson Twylla West said SHA told the division that “they are treating all cases in schools as though they are a Variant of Concern (VoC) to be very cautious.”

In a press release, SHA said that evidence shows that VoCs are 70 per cent more transmissible.

West told Global News that this does not change the ongoing measures and precautions in schools.

“We are continuing with all the mitigation strategies designed to reduce the risk of transmission within our schools as outlined in our Return to Schools Plan. We are grateful the strategies are working well as we understand the majority of the spread is currently happening in the community rather than in our classrooms.”

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At a press conference on Tuesday, Dr. Saqib Shahab, Saskatchewan’s chief medical health officer, said there has been a proportionate increase of COVID-19 cases in Regina school but layers of protection in school are preventing larger outbreaks.

Read more: Coronavirus: Luther College moves learning online amid COVID-19 outbreak

In Regina public schools there were 28 COVID-19 cases in February and 29 in January. So far in March, there have been 32 COVID-19 cases.

In Catholic schools in the city there were 24 cases in February and 13 in January. Since the beginning of March, there have been 27 positive cases in Regina Catholic schools.

Shahab also said Tuesday there are currently about six to eight schools with one COVID-19 case and 36 schools with potentially more than one case.

He explained that if a student is symptomatic and tests positive for COVID-19 and was in school in the days prior to that result, it’s considered a case in school in the contact tracing process.

“So far, we haven’t had large outbreaks in schools and that speaks to all the protocols in place,” Shahab added.

“Obviously in the Regina area, we’ll have to closely see. Does the B1.1.7 transmit more easily in the school setting and if so are further precautions required?” Shahab said.

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Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation president Patrick Maze is supportive of the recommendation that students and staff be tested twice before they re-enter schools after isolation to make sure they are negative.

Maze told Global News it’s the wrong time to be relaxing restrictions in the whole province.

Maze is calling for rapid testing in schools, something he said was announced in the fall but the government hadn’t delivered yet.

Read more: Coronavirus testing on the decline in Saskatchewan

“(Rapid testing kits are) critical in order to understand what’s going on and be able to put preventative measures in place or at least reactive measures. That’s the unfortunate part — we’re really two steps behind the virus right now,” Maze said.

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In a statement to Global News, the Ministry of Education said the School Testing Deployment Plan for COVID-19 is being implemented by the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Health in collaboration with the SHA.

“The plan has been shared with school divisions for implementation, particularly those that have been affected by the variants,” the statement read.

“We have requested that school divisions, historical high schools and qualified independent schools review the plan and work with their local medical health officer to introduce rapid testing within schools,” the statement added.

Maze said he’s also frustrated school staff members haven’t been scheduled for early vaccinations.

Schools are essential to keeping the economy running and with schools shutting down across the province, Maze is wondering if the province missed its chance to get ahead of the virus.

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“It seems like it’s an opportunity to contain this variant that has been lost and once it’s out it’s really going to be difficult to get in front of it at this point,” Maze said.

“We had an opportunity and it seems like we’ve squandered that.”

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