Hamilton school board releases plan to get more students, staff into targeted COVID-19 testing

Hamilton’s public school board is pushing forward with a plan to try and get more students and staff to participate in targeted, asymptomatic COVID-19 testing.

Saltfleet District High School will offer voluntary testing on Friday from 10:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Students and staff who attend the school on Highland Road West in Stoney Creek will be eligible, as will students and staff from the following schools:

  • Billy Green Elementary School.
  • Mount Albion Elementary School.
  • Gatestone Elementary School.
  • TapleyTown Elementary School.
  • Bellmoore Elementary School.
  • Shannen Koostachin Elementary School.

There will also be testing at Orchard Park Secondary School on Mar. 5 from 10:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., and at Bernie Custis Secondary School on Mar. 12 from 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board director Manny Figueiredo said the local public health unit chose these schools in this order. He said the school board is hosting the testing on Fridays instead of Saturdays.

HWDSB shifts testing from Saturdays to Fridays

“Our hope is increasing voluntary participation from staff and students, especially in the high school because their half-day ends at around 11 a.m. and they have 90 minutes to get home or go to the library for their remote classes in the afternoon so by being present there on a Friday, that was our strategy that more people might come,” he said in an interview on Thursday.

“And also if there are any cases [detected on Friday], we can process them over the weekend … we eliminate them coming into school, we can process and address any kind of cohorts that can self-isolate and we can do that over the weekend right away.”

Manny Figueiredo, HWDSB director of education, said high school teachers need to use professional judgment to balance the needs of in-person and remote learners. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

On Thursday, Friday and Saturday, the Catholic board is also hosting COVID-19 testing.

St. Ann Catholic Elementary School will host testing in Hamilton on Thursday from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. for its students and staff. St. Ann’s currently has an outbreak after two staff members were infected.

On Friday, St. John Henry Newman Catholic Secondary School will host testing on Friday from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. for its students and staff.

And on Saturday, it will have testing from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. for the following schools:

  • Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Elementary School.
  • St. Martin of Tours Catholic Elementary School.
  • St. David Catholic Elementary School.
  • St. Gabriel Catholic Elementary School.
  • St. Clare of Assisi Catholic Elementary School.
  • St. Francis Xavier Catholic Elementary School.
  • St. Agnes Catholic Elementary School.
  • Our Lady of Peace Catholic Elementary School.

Public health chose what schools host testing: HWDSB director

Local school boards previously did targeted, asymptomatic testing at Bishop Ryan Catholic Secondary School and Orchard Park Secondary School. While there were no positive cases among the 21 staff and 65 students tested, Figueiredo said he hopes the revised plan will see the number of people getting tested rise.

The province has asked school boards to host asymptomatic, targeted testing in at least five per cent of the elementary and secondary schools within their jurisdiction each week. They are also asked to prioritize schools in areas of high transmission, high case numbers and focus on schools where access to testing may be challenging.

Bernie Custis, for example, normally takes in students from some of Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board’s high-priority schools, which are in neighbourhoods with higher rates of poverty as identified by census or community demographic data. Public health data has shown people in lower income areas have a higher chance of contracting COVID-19.

Figueiredo said another way to bolster participation is to have testing cycle back to schools that already hosted a session. The plan may also change if the school board sees a large-scale school outbreak.

“It’s another measure within the other measures … don’t let your guard down with all other health measures like the masking, the distancing, the frequency of washing hands,” he said.

Asymptomatic testing has detected positive cases

The city’s medical officer of health  previously said the rapid, antigen tests could be used to help understand the spread of COVID-19 in schools and find more cases within dismissed cohorts.

Asymptomatic testing has detected some cases of COVID-19 in local students, the most recent example coming on Wednesday.

A St. Teresa of Avila Catholic Elementary School student who was isolating after an outbreak at the school tested positive for the virus, but the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board says they have no new school-related close contacts.

The outbreak caused the school to close last week after at least four staff members and four students had tested positive for COVID-19.

4 new COVID-19 cases in Hamilton schools

Besides the St. Teresa case, there were three other COVID-19 cases reported Thursday, two of which had exposed other students and staff.

A St. Thomas More Catholic Secondary School student last in the building on Feb. 22 tested positive for the virus. A Nora Frances Henderson Secondary School staff member also tested positive.

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