By Charlie Senack
The COVID-19 outbreak as St. Benedict Elementary School has worsened, and is now the worst educationalized outbreak in Ottawa since the pandemic began in March 2020.
The Ottawa Catholic School, located in Half Moon Bay, closed on Sept. 28, after 13 students tested positive for COVID-19. In the week since, 37 students have now tested positive, a record for Ottawa.
Ottawa Public Health said the outbreak was spread through multiple cohorts, and the extreme move to close was being made “out of an abundance of caution.” They added the school would be closed for at least 10 days.
A COVID-19 outbreak is declared when two or more cases are linked together within the school setting. It does not typically mean the school would fully close, but instead certain cohorts could be sent home if they are considered high risk.
It’s believed the outbreak began in a trio of kindergarten cohorts, but also somehow spread to at least one grade 4 class.
Ottawa Public Health contacted parents whose children needed to be isolated or receive COVID-19 testing, but there was confusion over the process.
Barrhaven resident Harpreet Sigh’s three children attend St. Benedict elementary school, and are all in different grades and classes. Sigh says his family was first made aware of a COVID-19 case in the school when a child in his son’s junior kindergarten class tested positive. A few days later a child in his other sons grade four class also tested positive.
“My son suspects that a kid who is in junior kindergarten, his brother is also in grade four,” said Sigh, “so it might be from the same family.”
When the first case was identified, Sigh’s youngest was already at home for two days as a precaution. He had a runny nose but tested negative for COVID-19. When the second class went into isolation, the Sigh family decided to keep all their kids home to play it safe. Then a day later, they were notified his oldest son’s class also saw a COVID-positive case. That’s when the school shut down for in person learning.
“They started online schooling but it’s been a nightmare,” said Sigh. “The teachers are scrambling; the infrastructure was not ready.”
The entire family went to get tested and all came back negative. But the guidance Sigh and his family received from Ottawa Public Health changed by the day and created mixed messaging.
“Ottawa Public Health first stated that our child was a close contact, so to keep him home. Then the next messaging was to keep all three kids at home,” he said. “Then it was just to keep them in isolation for seven days; then 10 days. Then it was the kids who should get tested; then we should too.”
“One day I read that Ottawa Public Health was saying that if parents were fully vaccinated, they could go out and about, but the kids could not,” Sigh added. “But then my wife got mad at me because she got a message which said we should not be going out either.”
In the latest email Sigh received, he was told that the school would reopen for in-person learning on Tuesday, Oct. 12 — two weeks after initially closing.
“My concern is if you have the highest number of cases, and you want to open, is that too quick? If the school does open Tuesday, I don’t know how many parents are going to be comfortable with that idea,” Sighh said. “I don’t feel that comfortable because it’s not that the school had one or two, four or five cases. It’s been two weeks and the reality is the school’s positivity rate has just gone up and up.”