Thorncliffe Park Public School, Ontario’s first asymptomatic school testing site, closes as cases increase

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The Toronto school, which is the first site of the province’s voluntary mass asymptomatic screening program, has closed as cases climb.

East York’s Thorncliffe Park Public School is firing all students until at least December 9, Principal Jeff Crane wrote in a letter to parents and guardians Thursday. Students and staff will not be allowed to enter the building until at least this date.

“As you know, Toronto Public Health (TPH) continues to investigate the 26 cases of COVID-19 at school. To give them time to complete their investigation and carry out additional voluntary testing for COVID-19, they advised that, based on the current situation, all students and school staff be fired, ”he said. he wrote.

The decision to close comes after three teachers quit their jobs on Thursday. Jennifer Brown, president of Elementary Teachers of Toronto, said nearly half of the school’s students are now isolated. With 24 students and two staff who tested positive, everyone is “walking on eggshells,” she says.

The school, near Don Valley Parkway and Millwood Road, is in an area hit hard by COVID-19. Asymptomatic testing was completed on Monday, with more than 500 children tested, out of a student body of 750. The province last week announced targeted school testing in COVID hotspots in Toronto, York, Peel and Ottawa, as a way to improve management of distribution in schools.

Brown said earlier Thursday that the number of cases at Thorncliffe was concerning. It has been a “revolving door of cases” there, she said, since about October 24, when an epidemic was first declared, and there have been 41 cases since the start of the month. September. Eighteen classes and around 348 students are isolated, along with 27 teachers, she said.

Brown believes cases in schools are underestimated, as many children have mild symptoms of COVID-19, if any.

The spread of the virus in schools has been a hot issue, with officials insisting they do not appear to be drivers of transmission, while some experts, parents and teachers say there is not enough data to know the full picture.

Brown said the Toronto Department of Public Health has not been transparent about contact tracing and how they determine which schools to close. She wants to keep schools open in general for the welfare of the students, but they need the “tools” to be safe, like smaller class sizes and more funding for ventilation systems.

“It is a pandemic why, are we nickel and decreasing the health and safety of students? This is unacceptable. ”

Toronto District School Board spokesperson Ryan Bird said it was “hard to speculate” whether more employees will leave their jobs at other schools as they go. that the tests will take place. “It really comes down to the individual feeling that they think it’s dangerous,” he said.

“They started this process this morning, the Ministry of Labor is involved, and obviously we are trying to answer as many questions as possible to allay some of those concerns,” he said on the phone Thursday morning while going to the school before the decision is made to close it.

Toronto Public Health spokesperson Dr. Vinita Dubey said in an email ahead of the closure announcement that the agency continues to work with school boards to ensure protections are in place in schools, including daily screening and targeted testing.

“Decisions about whether or not schools should remain open are based on many factors, including the number of cases related to the school, the number of cases that could have been acquired or disseminated in the school and the extent to which in which the school implements protective measures, ”she said. “We also provide advice and recommendations to our local school boards to inform school board decisions on class and school expulsions.

She added that “It is also important to remember that not all school-related COVID-19 cases were infected at school. The agency is conducting a contact tracing in schools, but still has not resumed a broader tracing of contacts in the community. He stopped contacting close contacts of positive cases outside outbreak areas in October, citing an overwhelming number of cases.

Asymptomatic testing will also be performed at Marc Garneau Collegiate Institute and Valley Park Middle School at TDSB, as well as Lester B. Pearson Collegiate Institute in Scarborough. Three Catholic schools in North York Toronto were also selected: St. Fidelis, St. John the Evangelist and Chaminade College. York Region is targeting 30 schools, including those that don’t already have a case problem, to get a baseline.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce told reporters on Thursday that the province has started asymptomatic testing “in the most at-risk areas of the province … with the aim of identifying” cases and reducing transmission among students, staff and their families.

“That’s why we started it,” he said, noting Thorncliffe’s high test participation rate.

Asked about teachers who refuse to work, he said he appreciates their concerns and that “the Ministry of Labor has a job, an independent review to ensure that staff, wherever they work, are in an environment sure… and I have confidence in the process. ”

He said public health makes the decisions to keep schools open, but comparing Ontario to the rest of Canada or to jurisdictions around the world, “we are still able to keep our schools open and safe.

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But NDP MP Marit Stiles, her party’s education critic, said the government should launch a comprehensive program of asymptomatic testing.

The province needs to track how COVID is transmitted in schools, and testing in the four hotspots is not enough, because “only base them in areas with the highest infection rates, it is is really missing the point, ”Stiles told the legislature Thursday.

“I can assure you that no parent or guardian whose child has been exposed to COVID at school is comforted by this minister who stands up every day in the legislature to say, ‘Hey, relax, kids. children are fine. ‘ Tell that to the Thorncliffe families.

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