Student rates

High student absenteeism rate due to COVID behind decision to close schools in Eskasoni

ESKASONI, NS — The high number of students absent from Eskasoni schools contributed to the decision to close them until after Easter.

Elizabeth Cremo, director of education for the Eskasoni School Board, said more than half of students in Eskasoni First Nation schools are absent due to COVID-19.

That, along with staff absences due to the virus, led to a school board meeting where Cremo said it had decided to close schools until April 19.

Announced Wednesday evening via email and social media, Cremo said the decision was made in the best interest of the community in light of the increase in cases.

“We discussed student and staff attendance rates and the number of exhibits we were contacted with,” Cremo said in a Thursday afternoon phone interview.

“It has been decided by the council to close the school to allow people to focus on their recovery.”

Cremo said that since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, there has not been another instance where student absences were so high.

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Number of cases on the rise

Over the past week, the number of COVID-19 cases has increased in Eskasoni. According to daily case count data, on March 18, there were 40 active cases of COVID-19. A week later, that number had more than doubled to 83. Three days later, there were 140 active cases in Eskasoni.

On Tuesday, the number of active cases rose to 188 – the highest number of active cases in the community so far in 2022. This record was broken on Wednesday when the number of active cases rose to 263, then again on Thursday when 319 active cases were recorded.

The Eskasoni First Nation Band Council has decided to resume publishing daily COVID-19 case number data beginning February 16, according to a February 15 post by Chief Leroy Denny on Facebook, which appears to be the first day of 2022 active cases reaches over 100.

Attempts to reach Chief Denny for comment on why the Band Council decided to release the daily case numbers failed at the time of publication.

    SARS-CoV-2, also known as the novel coronavirus that causes Covid-19, isolated from a patient in the United States - Reuters
SARS-CoV-2, also known as the novel coronavirus that causes Covid-19, isolated from a patient in the United States – Reuters

Variants of Omicron

As reported in the Cape Breton Post, both Omicron BA.1 and BA.2 variants are in Canada. In many provinces, BA.2 (sometimes called Omicron Stealth) has become the most dominant strain.

Both are highly transmissible, more so than any other variants, and BA.2 is slightly more contagious than BA.1.

The disease severity between the two variants appears to be the same, however, BA.2 is more difficult to detect with PCR assays because it lacks the spike proteins.

Since there are no spike proteins with BA.2, genetic sequencing is the only way to identify it. Thus, testing for all variants must be done this way for accuracy, which is more expensive and time-consuming.

There is also an indication that people who have been infected with BA.1 are not likely to be re-infected with BA.2.

Vaccination.  - Photo of SaltWire network file
Vaccination. – Photo of SaltWire network file

Protect and Heal

Although Nova Scotia Public Health lifted exposure notification in schools, Cremo said they continue to do so as a health protection measure for their community.

Parents were calling to notify the school board and schools of the cases in their home, asking for the information to be shared, which Cremo said staff did their best.

“I’m really proud of our community, they sort of band together. Getting vaccinated, getting tested, and letting people in the community know…that they need to take care of each other,” she said .

Things like multi-generational homes and overcrowding can increase the risk of spreading COVID-19 in homes in Eskasoni, Cremo said, noting that was another deciding factor in school closures.

No online learning is offered. The number of staff shortages is one of the reasons. The other, Cremo said, is to let families focus on healing.

“With so many of our students and staff sick from COVID, there’s no way students and families will worry about taking classes online,” she said.

“We just want people to focus on recovery.”

With file information from Post Media.

Nicole Sullivan is a reporter for the Cape Breton Post. Follow her on Twitter @CBPostNSullivan.