NOVEMBER 12, 2020 -- Ever wondered what happens when there is a case of COVID-19 at a school? A lot of work goes on behind the scenes. After the notification from Public Health, it usually begins with school division and school-based administration doing contact tracing. What is contact tracing? We are trying to find out where the staff member, or student, was on the day that they were contagious. Were they in one classroom or several? Did they go throughout the school or stay in one office? How close did they sit or stand to others and for how long?
Once that has been determined, the school division springs into action. This could be during the school day, at night or on weekends or holidays. To keep all employees and families informed, we follow these steps:
- We are informed by Public Health.
- We call all school staff and inform them of the specifics and what they need to do, if anything.
- School staff and division office staff telephone all close contacts and provide them with the information they need to know. For instance, do they need to quarantine for 14 days? Do they need to self-monitor, etc.? In most cases, this work is done by the school division, not Public Health.
- Once close contacts and staff have been called and informed, a recording is made by the school division office. This recording, and related texts, are informational only. They serve to inform school families about what is happening. These messages usually note that close contacts will be called directly. This informational, recorded phone call is not the close-contact call.
- In a rare case that the recorded message goes out before the close-contact telephone call, it may be for the following reasons:
- School must be closed and informing all school families is first concern;
- Not all close contacts can be immediately identified.
- Following the recorded message, the school division will post information on the school’s web site.
- The school division will then inform Regina-area news media who help inform school families and the public. We are grateful for their support and assistance.
- The school division’s Twitter account is also used to inform families, the public and, after business hours and on weekends, the news media.
- All school division staff are informed.
- Usually on the next school day, letters go home to families...one letter to the whole school informing them of a case (or cases) of COVID-19; and a more specific letter with instructions goes to the affected class(es). Both these letters are written in consultation with Public Health.
There has been a lot of speculation why sometimes schools are closed, why sometimes it is only a classroom and why, at other times, nothing is closed. It is all about the close contacts. If the individual who has COVID-19 was out of the school while contagious, nothing needs to be done; we just inform school families. If that individual was in one classroom and there were several contacts, we will inform them but keep the classroom open. If there were many close contacts in one or several classrooms, we must close the classrooms and switch to remote learning for up to 14 days.
Why do whole schools close?
If there are many close contacts and the potential for further infection is possible, or the disruption to learning is too significant, we will close the school and go to remote learning. The other situation may be that many staff members are close contacts and the school cannot operate without an appropriate number of employees.
We can bring in substitute teachers, educational assistants, facilities staff, administrators and even temporary principals, but sometimes the number of close contacts is too large, and for the safety of students and staff. At those times, the school must close and students go to remote learning.
A couple of things to keep in mind. You may not have a child in an identified school or any school, but you still get contacted. In rare cases, that is an error. Most likely, you have been made an emergency contact by someone else...a relative, a friend or a neighbour. If you get these calls, please contact your local school or firstname.lastname@example.org; provide your name and phone number and we will try to fix it.
If you do have a child in a school but don’t get informed, then you are not on our parent/guardian contact list and should be. Please call your local school. They can also help get you set up to get text messaging. These messages are important, not only during the pandemic but also when other important information needs to go out, such as an incident at a school or a cancellation in busing.
Regina Public Schools employees are working hard to create a learning and working environment that is as safe as possible for students and staff. We are also striving to keep our school families well-informed and prepared, even on weekends and holidays. The process we follow isn’t perfect and it continues to evolve. We appreciate your patience and your ongoing support!