Mount Pearl Senior High closed after 2 COVID-19 cases found; briefing set for 2 p.m. NT –

Mount Pearl Senior High School has closed for several days after two people at the school tested positive for COVID-19 Sunday, according to a memo by the school district and Eastern Health, while officials will be holding an impromptu briefing at 2 p.m. NT.

All in-person classes and extracurricular activities are suspended, with “the exact number of days to be determined” as health officials investigate, said the joint statement, released on Twitter at midnight Monday morning by the Newfoundland and Labrador English District and the health authority.

“In this situation it is unknown how long the individuals may have been COVID-19-positive, or to what extent the virus may have already spread throughout the school community,” the statement said.

The statement doesn’t give any further information on the identities of the two cases, but outlines a number of steps members of the school community must now follow.

“All students and staff must isolate away from household members until they receive further direction from public health officials,” says the statement.

Health officials will be in touch with close contacts of the two cases and ask them to self-isolate for 14 days after their last contact with either of them, it says.

“Household contacts of the student/teacher/staff (e.g. siblings or other family members), do not need to isolate at this time unless the student/teacher/staff who attends Mount Pearl Senior High has symptoms of COVID-19 or tests positive as a result of this investigation,” says the statement.

Public health will offer testing to all students and staff, but will start with close contacts of the cases and operate on a priority basis from there.

In an emailed statement to CBC News, the school district directed any questions about the situation to public health.

The board said it’s not sure how long the school will stay closed — that’s a decision for public health — but is preparing to switch to online remote learning as soon as possible.

The Department of Health’s daily update on COVID-19 cases on Sunday came hours later than usual, but detailed only one new case, that of a female under the age of 19. The source of that infection is under investigation.

The Mount Pearl cases mark the second time a school in the province has closed due to COVID-19 since the school year started in September. In late November, a positive case in a student prompted the closure of Elwood Elementary in Deer Lake.

The Newfoundland and Labrador Teachers’ Association said in a statement that closing the school is the right thing to do, but said it’s concerned about the potential reach of the virus.

“We all know that students and staff do not live their lives in a school ‘bubble.’ Mount Pearl Senior High has 930 students and more than 50 staff members, all of whom have families and connections that would bring them into regular contact with others, including students and staff from other schools,” NLTA president Dean Ingram said in the media release.

The NLTA has voiced concerns for months about the regulations in schools, and whether the measures in place are strict enough to ensure the safety of staff and students during the pandemic.

“The potential scope of exposure in these circumstances cannot be denied and should motivate government and public health officials to rethink how it can be safe to continue with students and school staff spending extended periods of time in close quarters with little or no physical distancing and weak or no mask requirements,” said Ingram in the statement.

Impromptu briefing Monday

The Health Department says it will be holding an unplanned media briefing to discuss details of the latest cases. While the department initially said the briefing would be Monday morning, it is instead scheduled for 2 p.m. NT.

On Saturday, officials reported three new cases, the source of one of which is also under investigation.

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald will hold an impromptu media briefing Monday to talk about the latest COVID-19 cases. (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador)

Public health is asking anyone who was at the Bigs Restaurant in Mount Pearl between Jan. 21 and Feb. 4 to call 811 to get tested.

Eastern Health has opened a temporary drive-thru testing clinic at 50 Mundy Pond Rd. to meet demand. Hours for drive-thru clinics at the Janeway and Waterford hospitals have also been extended, the health authority said.

The Department of Health wants anyone who develops or has had COVID-19 symptoms in the last two weeks to self-isolate while waiting for a negative test result.

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