A Clayton Park-area elementary school is being temporarily closed amid rising COVID-19 cases and exposures at the school.
Parents of students at Duc d’Anville Elementary School have been calling on the province to close down the school as it continues to report new COVID-19 cases and exposures.
Attendance has fallen sharply as some parents have been choosing to keep their children home. There have been 14 cases at the school so far and 10 exposures since Sept. 20.
In an email to families Friday, principal Adam Griffin said the school, in consultation with Public Health, will be closed to students effective Tuesday, Oct. 12.
“This is due to the ongoing number of COVID-19 cases connected to our school,” he said.
Griffin said families can expect to hear from their teachers on Tuesday and at-home learning will begin that day. He said he will share more information on Monday.
The email also said Public Health will deploy its mobile testing unit in the community next week and a negative COVID-19 test will be required to return to school on Oct. 18.
Dr. Robert Strang, the province’s chief medical officer of health, said during a news conference earlier in the week that Nova Scotia was not yet at the point where it had to close schools.
But during another media availability Friday, Strang said more cases have come up from the school in the last 48 hours, and so the decision was made to close it temporarily. He said in some cases, there was widespread exposure beyond single classrooms.
“Rather than waiting to see what the the outcome of those wider exposures were, we really felt that we needed to act quickly,” he told reporters.
Strang said there are multiple ways the virus was introduced in the school, some by teachers and some by students.
He said there is ongoing COVID-19 activity in the Clayton Park area, and said the school can likely expect more cases once it reopens.
“It doesn’t mean that this closure would have failed. It’s almost like the closure gives us an opportunity to reset and start again,” Strang said.
“But with ongoing community activity, there is the possibility of the virus being reintroduced into the school, and I come back to the point I’ve made throughout the pandemic: our schools are as safe as our communities are safe.”
While most of the Duc d’Anville students themselves are too young to be vaccinated, he urged people in the area to get the COVID-19 vaccine if they have not yet done so.
Strang said the province will continue to watch COVID-19 cases in other schools in the area, such as nearby Halifax West.
Closure a ‘huge relief’
Paul Wozney, the president of the Nova Scotia Teachers’ Union, said the announcement will likely be a “huge relief” for staff at the school, who have been concerned with the rise in cases at the school.
“These cases have been piling up for the better part of three weeks at this particular school, and they have raised alarm bells loud and clear to us,” he said.
He credited the parents who have been pushing the province to close the school.
Wozney said he was pleased to see Public Health responding to their concerns.
“Some people will probably say we would have liked to see this step taken a while ago, but it’s at least being taken now, and I think now we have a precedent,” he said, adding that there are other schools with rising cases and there is now an “expectation” of how they will be addressed moving forward.
However, Wozney raised concerns about parents who might not be able to afford to keep their kids at home, and said many of the students who continued to attend school were from families who couldn’t afford to miss a day of work.
As well, he said there are many newcomers to that area and worried that Public Health communication might be lost for those who don’t speak English or French as a first language.
“There is an equity piece in this that I think sometimes is lost,” he said.
“Everybody makes assumptions. They think everybody is like them … and really, schools are very diverse places. Even if we may not see visible diversity, there’s real diversity in the lived experience of families.”
During Friday’s availability, Strang said Public Health messaging is being translated into different languages, and said they are working with the school and the Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia to combat issues with language barriers and literacy.
25 new cases, 38 recoveries
The province also announced in a separate release there are 25 new cases of COVID-19. With 38 recoveries, the number of active cases is now 234.
Seventeen cases are in the Central Zone, four cases are in the Eastern Zone, three cases are in the Northern Zone and one case is in the Western Zone.
The province continues to say there is community spread in the Central Zone, primarily among people aged 20 to 40 who are unvaccinated and participating in social activities.
It also said two schools were notified of exposures at their schools on Oct. 7. One of them was at Duc d’Anville.
“It is important to note that an exposure associated with a school does not mean there is spread within the school or that the initial case was first exposed to the virus in the school,” the release said.
The release also included updated data on the vaccination status of new cases. Of the 5,214 cases reported between March 15 and Oct. 6, 88.7 per cent were unvaccinated, 6.4 per cent were partially vaccinated and 4.9 per cent were fully vaccinated.
Of the 290 people hospitalized in that time frame, 87.6 per cent were unvaccinated, 10 per cent were partially vaccinated and 2.4 per cent were fully vaccinated.
And of the 32 people who died, 26 were unvaccinated, three were partially vaccinated and three were fully vaccinated.
The province does not release COVID-19 updates on weekends or holidays, so the next update will come Tuesday.