Press Statement School COVID-19 Updates 30 November 2020
Today I would like to provide a brief update in terms of the processes in place at the Ministry of Health for when there is a potential COVID-19 exposure in a school setting.
First of all though, I would like to thank my team at the Ministry of Health who has been working diligently all weekend, following a well laid out plan to combat any possible outbreak.
The testing teams conducted 527 tests at Dellwood this weekend and 2,419 across all testing sites – an extraordinary effort. And the contact tracers have been no less busy; the way they have responded and kept us safe is well-known, recognized and appreciated.
I have heard many questions asked over the weekend as to why one school is asked quarantine while another is not, even though both schools may have some perceived COVID-19 risk.
To this, I would say that it is important to remember that we have to look at each situation uniquely. Circumstances and risk may be totally different – which can only be discovered through the contact tracing process. Contact tracing is rather like peeling back the layers of an onion…How deep we need to go depends on what we find as we peel back each layer.
The Department of Health continues to follow a thorough, comprehensive, data-driven, and scientific approach for contact tracing and making decisions around who is required to quarantine and who is not.
If there is a positive case involving a school setting, the Department of Health – led by the ESU – will physically go to the school and initiate a risk assessment, such as the one which concluded today at Clearwater Middle School. As part of the assessment, they will meet with school representatives, including the Principal, to determine the positive individual’s movements around the school, any interactions with others, mask wearing compliance, etc. If the individual is a student, they may ask questions about any extracurricular activities they have taken part in, which bathrooms they may have used and if their school bubbles have been kept separate from others. Often times, the Chief Medical Officer will call-in to the meeting so that his additional questions can be answered in real-time.
Following that questioning, we make a decision about the exposure risks and whether certain rooms have to be closed off and cleaned. We then contact the Department of Education’s Facility Manager and share our findings and organize cleaning crews.
Our risk assessment at Clearwater today determined that the whole school should be thoroughly cleaned including walls, floors, chairs, desks, bathrooms etc.
The Ministry of Health will contact anyone needing to be tested or quarantined. Like schools, people are unique too, with varying degrees of risk based on their potential exposures. So while one person may be contacted and told to test once, another person who works in the same place may be told to test four times and quarantine until Day 14 – it all depends on what the contact tracers find and what the perceived level of risk is for each person.
If you have not been contacted by the team, please do not rely on rumor, or social media to determine next steps. If you are in fact a close contact, you will be contacted by Health.
At this time, I would like to urge all students, teachers and parents to follow the recommended health procedures. This is not the time to be lax.
Parents – please remind your children to wear their masks, wash their hands often and practice physical distancing. We really need parents to be onboard for consistency; to reiterate our messaging.
I commend schools who are, for the most part, following public health guidance, even if it means getting creative: Some schools, for example, under Ministry of Health guidance, have implemented “breathing breaks” for their students which may involve every other row pulling their mask down under their chin for three minutes. Other schools permit what they are calling “brain breaks” which allow children to leave the classroom to go outside without masks to get fresh air, ensuring they are physically distanced. Some schools are even holding some of their classes outdoors, if the weather is fair.
Children and teachers should wear their masks when moving from the classroom to any shared space. Consider a school hallway as you would a grocery store, for example.
Parents and teachers please make sure that children do not bunch together in lines and that they do not touch one another’s faces.
I would like to remind members of the public that they can book an appointment for testing at: gov.bm/coronavirus-get-tested
I wish to close by saying that I have full confidence in our epidemiology and testing teams to evaluate the extent of any outbreak and ensure that it is contained.
Before I begin my press statement, I would like to reiterate that the safety and health of all students and staff is a priority for the Ministry and Department of Education.
As we continue navigate the effects of COVID 19, we do so in concert with the Ministry of Health. Our commitment to our school family is to keep safety and health as a priority; to be transparent; and to keep our school staff, families and the public abreast of any new developments or plans.
These are unsettling times, and we understand the concerns shared by parents, students, teachers and staff. As a parent with a child at Whitney Institute, rest assured that I also understand how the latest COVID 19 testing results are troubling for our schools and families.
When test results are received, we work in sync with the Ministry of Health to communicate information to school staff and parents and with consistently follow their instructions for the actions that are to be taken. Further, it is the Ministry of Health who assesses the risk of any COVID-19 developments in schools and they determine the best course of action to keep our students, staff and community safe.
Now that I have provided some background information, I will provide you with updates regarding the COVID-19 developments at Clearwater Middle School, Dellwood Middle School, Paget Primary, West End Primary, and St. George’s Preparatory.
Clearwater Middle School
In the case of Clearwater Middle School, the initial report was that one person, a non-teaching staff, had tested positive, but the school could open today; and an assessment would take place. Last night, I released a press statement and video explaining this information.
The school did open this morning and there were 23 students and 15 staff present. After students and staff had been on site for over two hours, the Department of Health gave instructions for staff and students to exit the premises so that deep cleaning could take place. The Department of Health has reported that this is the current status of the school.
As shared previously, in the event of potential COVID19 exposure, classrooms and any affected areas are deep cleaned and inspected before students and staff are allowed back into the building. The Department of Education’s Facilities team will coordinate the deep cleaning of the Clearwater facilities. A meeting took place at the school today to discuss the deep cleaning plan; and deep cleaning will take place on Tuesday and Wednesday. This will mean that staff and students will not be able to enter the building on these two days.
The Principal will communicate to parents at a meeting planned for tonight at 8:30pm, the process for distributing learning packets to students.
The Department of Health will determine whether any additional action is to be taken and then we will advise our parents, teachers and staff of the date for Clearwater Middle school to reopen.
Dellwood Middle School
Dellwood Middle School students, parents and staff have been asked to quarantine.
Teachers and students will transition to a remote learning schedule on Wednesday, December 2nd.
Students who do not have mobile devices will receive non-digital learning packets and the process for collecting the packets will be communicated to parents by the school principal.
St George’ Preparatory
Staff and P2 students who were under quarantine returned to school today with high attendance rates for staff and students. Teachers and students jumped right back into the class and the day started with a class meeting held to review class / school rules and protocols.
West End Primary
Students and teachers at West End Primary’s P5 also returned to school today. Staff and student attendance rates were high and teaching and learning took place as normal. A wellness check in was carried out for the class and the guidance counsellor remained on standby in the event any students were anxious or worried. Overall the teacher and students were reported as doing fine.
Paget Primary ASD Class
The Department of Health also gave clearance for students in the ASD Programme at Paget Primary and the staff to return to work today. Overall attendance rates were high for students and staff and staff were reported to have mixed emotions about their return.
As we approach the holiday season, there is a possibility more people travelling, which may lead to increased positive cases across the island. As a reminder, if you or anyone in your household travels (including family members or guests returning from overseas), your child will need to observe the current quarantine requirements. A student can return to school once the negative Day-8 test results are received by the office.
In addition, if anyone in your household is required to quarantine due to close contact with COVID-19, your child should also quarantine if directed the by the Department of Health. Children who are quarantining at home will receive either electronic or hard copy work packets.
The Ministry of Education appreciates the cooperation of the Department of Health and the teachers throughout our Public School system.
Let me extend my appreciation to the Ministry of Health team who set up the testing at Dellwood Middle School.
In closing, I would like to urge our students, teachers, parents and the general public to understand that the procedures outlined are to be followed in keep our schools safe and healthy.
The critical message that I want to end with is that we need to wear masks, practice social distancing, wash our hands and keep our bubbles small.
We all play a critical role in keeping our island safe. Let’s all do our part.