Prince Edward Island is temporarily cancelling in-person classes at schools in Charlottetown, following the province’s first-ever outbreak of COVID-19 in a school setting.
P.E.I.’s chief health officer, Dr. Heather Morrison, made the announcement alongside Premier Dennis King at an abruptly organized news conference Sunday afternoon.
“We do have a serious situation with COVID-19 transmission in P.E.I.,” said Morrison.
On Friday, a case was announced at West Royalty Elementary School. By Sunday, Morrison said six additional cases had been confirmed in the province — all in youth under the age of 19.
Four of the new cases are connected to the West Royalty case, one is a student at Charlottetown Rural High School, and the last is a close contact of a previously-announced case.
Morrison said 10 of the last 11 cases of COVID-19 have been among children. All but one of these cases are among those who are not yet eligible to be vaccinated — in other words, kids under 12.
None of the children who tested positive are in hospital.
“This is an evolving and concerning situation,” she said. “Our investigation of these cases continues with contact tracing and testing underway as we speak.”
Close contacts are being identified and will have to test and isolate. Morrison said there are currently 50 close contacts identified, and “the list keeps growing.”
“I fully expect we will have more cases in the coming days.”
Morrison added investigators have not been able to link the cases to travel outside the province, and until they do, they are considering there to be community transmission and are assuming new cases are the Delta variant.
“We know that COVID-19 including the Delta variant seeks out groups of people who are not vaccinated and that is what we are experiencing,” she said.
In-person classes at West Royalty Elementary have been cancelled for the coming week, while classes are cancelled for the next three days at 17 other schools in the area to allow for contact tracing and testing.
By the middle of this week, all other schools in the province will move to “elevated risk level” measures, as outlined in the province’s back-to-school plan. That means cohorting in the K-6 schools and increased cleaning and distancing.
In addition, extracurricular activities for students in the Charlottetown area will be suspended for three days.
Early childhood centres will remain open.
Morrison said she knew this was not the news that people wanted to hear, and while she expected cases in schools to happen, this was earlier in the school year than anticipated.
“I am concerned that we do not know the extent of COVID transmission in P.E.I.”
Premier King “strongly encouraged” employers to be flexible and allow parents and guardians of the affected schools to work from home if possible. If not, King said there would be government programs for families that need to stay home, and said more details would be released on Monday.
There are 14 active infections in the province. Ninety-two per cent of the eligible population has received at least one dose of a vaccine and 83.1 per cent are fully vaccinated.