Masks helping keep school transmission of COVID-19 low: infectious disease expert
Published Wednesday, October 14, 2020 3:47PM EDT Last Updated Wednesday, October 14, 2020 10:43PM EDT
KITCHENER -- Ontario schools are seeing new cases of COVID-19 reported daily, but the explosion of cases once feared has not yet come to pass in Waterloo Region.
The region's public school board reported a new case at Elmira District Secondary School on Wednesday, bringing the total number of cases in Waterloo Region District School Board schools to 25.
The Catholic school board, on the other hand, has reported just four cases among its schools since the students returned to the classroom.
"All things considered, the school year has gotten off to a really solid start," said John Shewchuk with the Waterloo Catholic District School Board.
A month into the school year, Region of Waterloo Public Health has declared a total of three outbreaks in local schools: two in the English public school system, and one at Conseil scolaire catholique MonAvenir, each with a total of two cases.
Only one, the outbreak at JF Carmichael, is still active.
According to infectious disease expert Dr. Abdu Sharkawy, the lack of any major outbreaks in local elementary or secondary schools is because mandatory masks in the classroom.
"They've adopted this fairly comfortably," he said.
"It's become a seamless part of their routine and I think it really highlights the critical importance of a fairly simple strategy that can really help prevent disease transmission, especially in situations where it's not very easy to distance."
Despite advice from the province that suggested masks only be mandated for students in Grade 4 and higher, both the public and Catholic school boards opted to make masks mandatory for all students, with a few exceptions.
The public board also told CTV Kitchener that families are being diligent in completing daily screening to make sure children stay home if they are showing signs or symptoms of the virus.
"Every in-person class has a virtual classroom that their teacher has set up, so if they are home isolating or not feeling well, they are able to follow along with the regular classwork," said Alana Russell with the Waterloo Region District School Board.
Waterloo Region has seen a total of 1,934 cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began. The region's online COVID-19 dashboard shows that the number of cases among the region's youngest demographics have been increasing, but they still make up a relatively low percentage of the region's cases.
Those aged nine and under comprise of 41 cases, up from 21 cases reported back on Sept. 7.
The next age group up—those age 10 to 19—makes up 127 cases of COVID-19. That number has nearly tripled in the last five weeks, rising from 46 on Sept. 7.