What happens when a Quebec student tests positive for COVID-19?

It’s been less than a week since Quebec students have returned to school, and already dozens have been forced to isolate because a classmate has tested positive for COVID-19.

But there has been some confusion among school administrators about how to respond when someone tests positive.

One principal sent an entire class home when the parent of a student tested positive. That was unnecessary, Premier François Legault said later.

Proper protocol appears to have been followed earlier this week at two Quebec City high schools. When three students showed symptoms of COVID-19, they were pulled from their classes and sent home immediately.

All the other students in their classes were put into self-isolation — a total of 81 students between the two schools.

A student is greeted at the Philippe-Labarre elementary school in Montreal last Thursday. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

But it won’t always be the case that an entire class is ordered into isolation when one student, or teacher, tests positive.

According to health authorities, figuring out who needs to be isolated depends on several factors that need to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. 

Case by case

Quebec government guidelines indicate all parents, students and staff will be notified when there is a COVID-19 case at their school.   

Any student showing symptoms of COVID-19 while at school is immediately escorted out by a single staff member wearing personal protective equipment until they are picked up by a parent.

They are then asked to isolate themselves and contact 1-877-644-454 to determine whether the child should be tested and what other precautions need to be taken. 

The student will then receive online schoolwork while they are in isolation. 

The government says regional health authorities will work with the school to determine who needs to be tested and who should be monitoring themselves for symptoms on a case-by-case basis. 

It will also be regional health authorities that determine whether an entire classroom — or school — should be shut down.

‘When you look at those who should be isolated, it’s those who spend more than 15 minutes within two metres of a COVID-positive individual,’ said Dr. Caroline Quach, an infectious disease specialist. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

When do parents have to isolate?

“[The guidelines] are completely in line with everything else we’ve done in terms of contact tracing and isolation,” said Dr. Caroline Quach, an infectious disease specialist who has advised the government on it back-to-school plan.

“When you look at those who should be isolated, it’s those who spend more than 15 minutes within two metres of a COVID-positive individual.” 

If a student who sits at the front of the class tests positive for instance, but stayed in their seat the whole time, and wore a mask when moving around, then the students at the back of the class wouldn’t necessarily need to be isolated, she said.

“I suspect that most of the time, though, the class will be isolated at home,” she said. 

When extracurricular activities and intramural sports resume, potentially after Sept. 14, that could mean an increase in students who need to be isolated.

Everyone who comes into sustained contact with a positive case will be ordered to isolate, Quach said. 

As for parents, they would need to self-isolate for 14 days if their child tests positive. 

“Usually household contacts would be tested in the four days following contact just to see if we’re missing any asymptomatic transmission,” said Quach. 

“Regardless of that result, if you are a high-risk contact of a case you are going to be isolated for 14 days.”

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