Close to 150 people – staff and students from Fellowes High School – underwent testing for COVID-19 today.
On Wednesday, the Renfrew County District Health Unit (RCDHU) ordered the Pembroke high school close until further notice after three staff members tested positive for the virus. An outbreak was declared at the school following the first two positive results. A special testing clinic was held Thursday where the health unit expected to test between 50 and 60 Fellowes staff members and approximately 90 students from the three classes directly impacted by the outbreak. Once the results are known, the RCDHU will be reporting on a daily basis, according to Dr. Robert Cushman, acting medical officer of health for the RCDHU.
Fellowes is the first school in the Province of Ontario to be closed since schools reopened earlier this month. Cushman said while it was a difficult to be the first to shut down a school, it was necessary to limit the spread of the virus. He would not set a timeline for when the school will reopen as the situation will be assessed on a day-to-day basis.
He said following the first two positive cases, the feeling was that the contacts were limited to a small area of the school and number of students, but concerns were raised when the third positive test result came in because that individual had contact with three classrooms in the school.
“With that result we decided that we had to catch up if not get in front of this, rather than the virus get out and infect the entire school,” Cushman said during a telephone interview Thursday afternoon. “It was an effort to minimize the harm so far and get the evidence we needed to assess the situation and decide how to go forward.”
He said what came out during contact tracing was the staff members at the school was much more vigilant when it came to distancing and wearing masks with the students that it they were with each other. It is felt that the virus may have made its way into the school when staff members returned prior to Labour Day, Cushman noted.
“These three people, I feel sorry for them because they all had other conditions which they blame,” he said. “It’s bad luck we had three people had other problems or so they thought and they tested positive. The message is if you’ve got a symptom it’s COVID until proven otherwise.”
“For us, sometimes we’ll never know where index case came from, but our goal and our mission is to minimize further spread,” the doctor added. “It is one thing to look back and speculate but another to get on this and limit the spread to the best of our ability.
Cushman is hopeful that this recent uptick in cases in Renfrew County and district will serve as a wake-up call for residents of Renfrew County that everyone must pull up their socks and some must get with the program and take the necessary precautions related to the virus.
“Most of us have been doing our best but now we have COVID fatigue and we have to pull up our socks especially as we move toward winter and if we want to keep the schools open and the economy going,” Cushman said.
These three cases bring the total of positive COVID-19 cases to 41 in Renfrew County and district. There are currently seven people self-isolating with the virus, including the three staff members. There have been eight positive cases since Sept. 1 and with more positive results related to Fellowes anticipated, September could to be the worst month for cases since March, which saw 13 positive cases.
He sees this as the second wave of the virus and people must act now to limit the spread.
“It is only the public and its behaviours that can contain this disease to limit its spread,” Cushman said. “Once it gets to cases and contact tracing we are on the defensive so we health-care professionals are the defence, but it’s the public that is the offence. It’s really important that people pay attention to the precautionary measures – the hand washing, the masking and distancing.”
He also strongly suggests that people download the COVID Alert app which can assist the health unit with contact tracing. He also encouraged people to reassess their personal bubbles and limit close contacts with those outside their bubble.
Other keys to limiting the spread of COVID-19 remain physical distancing, wearing a mask when it isn’t possible and practising good hand hygiene, including using hand sanitizer when soap and water is not available.