Eight Toronto schools confirmed to have at least one COVID-19 case linked to variant of concern
A grade six class room is shown at Hunter's Glen Junior Public School which is part of the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) during the COVID-19 pandemic in Scarborough, Ont., on Monday, September 14, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
TORONTO -- Eight schools in Toronto have at least one COVID-19 case that has screened positive for a variant of concern, Toronto Public Health reported Wednesday.
In a news release, TPH said it is currently working with schools to respond to COVID-19 variant cases. The eight schools impacted include Beverley School, Danforth Collegiate and Technical Institute, Yeshiva Yesodei Hatorah, Gulfstream Public School, The Toronto Cheder, Helen Catholic School, Dante Alighieri Academy, and Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic School.
“The affected individuals and cohorts have been dismissed from school with guidance based on their level of risk,” TPH said, adding that they have followed up with close contacts and recommended them to be tested.
At a news conference Wednesday afternoon, Toronto's top doctor said she expects the city will start to see cases of the more contagious COVID-19 variants circulating in its schools.
“Certainly we expected that as schools returned to in-person learning we were expecting that we would see cases within those settings, and in light of the fact that there are variants of concern in the community, we expect and we should expect to see variants of concern within schools,” Toronto's Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa said.
She said that moving forward, Toronto Public Health will treat all COVID-19 cases that arise in schools as variant cases unless proven otherwise.
“Right now, knowing what we know about the presence of variants of concern in our community, we are treating every case out of an abundance of caution, every case that arises within the context of the school will be assumed to be a variant of concern until proven otherwise,” de Villa said.
She said the health unit is taking the move “so that we can create the safest environment possible within our school settings to allow our kids, as much as possible that benefit of in-person learning.”
De Villa also reported Wednesday that the reproductive number for the virus currently sits at 1.1 in Toronto, meaning that cases continue to grow rather than diminish. She said it is too soon to say whether that growth is tied to the reopening of schools last week.
While Toronto remains in lockdown, kids returned to in-class learning on Feb. 16 following an extended break from in-person learning due to the second wave of the pandemic.
Earlier this month, de Villa said that there were "no perfect solutions” to the question of how to proceed with schooling amid the pandemic. However she cited advice from a number of health authorities, such as Sick Kids Hospital, which said that schools should be able to open safely with proper measures in place.
De Villa said Wednesday that “any setting where there are people together is an opportunity for virus to spread” and added that “we know that many of the cases within the schools actually arise from transmission within the community.”
At the city’s request, the province recently extended a stay at home order for Toronto until at least March 8 and de Villa urged all residents to do their part "a little longer" to help stop the spread of the virus and its more contagious variants.
Ontario reported Wednesday that the province has seen 623 school-related cases within the past 14 days, including around 140 cases at Toronto schools. The city’s website currently lists three suspected outbreaks at Toronto schools.