OTTAWA -- A Barrhaven school has been closed following a COVID-19 outbreak. The Ottawa Catholic School Board says Ottawa Public Health has declared an outbreak at St. Benedict Elementary School.

Tuesday, at least 13 cases of COVID-19 had been confirmed at the school.

In an updated emailed statement Tuesday night, the board said, “Upon further investigation, OPH has declared an extension to the outbreak. The whole school has been closed, out of an abundance of caution, as our investigation suggests that there is evidence of the spread of COVID-19 to several cohorts in the school.”

Cases were first indentified in kindergarten cohorts. One parent tells CTV News Ottawa a positive test result was reported in her child's Grade 4 class.

This is the first school in the OCSB and the first in Ottawa that has been closed because of COVID-19 so far this school year.

After school on Tuesday, OPH officials were at the school handing out COVID-19 testing kits to high-risk contacts and individuals and family members who are symptomatic.

Medical officer of health Dr. Vera Etches says the school was shutdown after cases were found without links.

"There were more than one cohort where people had tested positive and then we were starting to see other children in different cohorts test positive without a link back to those cohorts where we had identified a need for them to isolate," said Etches on Wednesday.

The board says OPH will continue to work with the school to monitor the situation.

It’s unclear how long the school closure will last, but OPH sent a letter to parents and guardians suggesting they should be prepared for 10 days or longer.

A spokesperson for the Ottawa Catholic School Board expects a smooth transition to online learning during the outbreak.

"All of our staff have received training on using the learning management system known as Hapara. Most educators post resources on the learning management system to prepare for a class or school closure, even when students attend in person. The students are well versed in how to use Hapara, where their daily work is provided. This should be a relatively seamless transition from in-school learning to learning online learning," said Sharlene Hunter.

Ottawa Public Health, meanwhile, is reaching out to high-risk contacts directly.

"OPH will contact you directly if you or your child are identified as high-risk contacts and include further instruction," the health unit said. "If you have not received communication from OPH directly, you or your child do NOT need to isolate."

OPH said that staff and students who are not high-risk contacts must self-monitor closely for symptoms of COVID-19 and that testing recommendations were provided to high-risk contacts. Testing recommendations for other students and staff will be communicated through the school.

"For the duration of the outbreak, OPH recommends that staff and students of this school not visit older persons or those with chronic illness," the letter to families said.

Children and family members who develop symptoms of COVID-19 have been told to isolate at home and seek testing immediately. Other members of the household also need to self-isolate if they are not fully vaccinated and/or if they have symptoms.

Parents who spoke to CTV News Ottawa say the closure of the school is stressful.

"Having something sprung on you without really being prepared, it’s difficult to manage," said Amit Sharma, who has sons in Grade 2 and 3 at the school. "When your life’s already chaotic with everything that’s going on, to add this to it is difficult."

Sharma said one son is considered high risk, but the other is not, which has created some confusion.

"I got a call and a voice message basically saying that my son is high risk but his brother who lives with him isn’t considered high risk and it seems like there was some miscommunication or it wasn’t very clear on whether he goes into school or not," Sharma said. "I don’t know who’s leading and making these decisions but it’s confusing."

Noor Khayou, who has daughters in grades 3 and 4 also said the closure came as a surprise.

"We are not prepared for this. It was like surprise news and we hope everything will go back normal soon," Khayou said.

Learning they couldn't go back to class this week was difficult for the girls.

"Last year, they experienced the online learning but it was hard news for them because they just started school and then to go back to online, it’s not easy for them. Online learning is good, but still, they want to interact with the other kids and their teacher. It’s better for them I feel."

An epidemiologist at the University of Ottawa is not concerned about the current cases in schools, but says now is the time to focus on keeping COVID transmission out of the classroom.

"I don't think we're at the stage where we have to be closing schools, but we are at the stage where we have to be thinking of using better tools to contain this," said Dr. Raywat Deonandan.

"I think we have to use rapid testing in order to curtail transmission in schools, we have to use symptom checks, we have to maximize vaccination for the adults inside the school all that good stuff, and we’re not doing it yet."

Deonandan calls regular surveillance testing of all students at a given school a "game changer."

"We cannot let perfect be the enemy of good. These tests aren’t perfect, they’re good and good is good enough if we use them at scale and with the appropriate strategy."

However, Dr. Etches says Ottawa Public Health believes rapid testing won't help identify cases in high-risk contacts in schools.

"Really the Ottawa Public Health position is that we want to the use gold standard test which is the PCR based test so that we don’t miss anyone."

St. Benedict one of 15 school outbreaks in Ottawa

Ottawa's four main school boards reported 112 active COVID-19 cases between them as of Tuesday afternoon and Ottawa Public Health reported 15 ongoing outbreaks.

The severity of illness in school students and staff is unknown, but Ottawa Public Health is reporting zero COVID-19 patients under the age of 20 in hospitals or ICUs.

COVID-19 outbreaks are affecting 12 elementary schools, two secondary schools and one elementary/secondary school in the city.

The following schools are experiencing outbreaks (case counts are cumulative and not active):

  • École élémentaire catholique Marius-Barbeau (Started Sept. 14; 4 student cases, 2 staff cases)
  • Lycée Claudel (Started Sept. 17; 3 student cases, 0 staff cases)
  • École élémentaire catholique Pierre Elliott Trudeau (Started Sept. 17; 2 student cases, 0 staff cases)
  • St. Paul High School (Started Sept. 17; 3 student cases, 0 staff cases)
  • St. Kateri Tekakwitha Elementary School (Started Sept. 17; 2 student cases, 0 staff cases)
  • École élémentaire catholique Montfort (Started Sept. 19; 10 student cases, 1 staff case)
  • Joan Of Arc Academy (Started Sept. 21; 5 student cases, 1 staff case)
  • Our Lady of Mount Carmel elementary school (Started Sept. 21; 2 student cases, 1 staff case)
  • École secondaire Catholique Samuel-Genest (Started Sept. 22; 2 student cases, 0 staff cases)
  • Queen Elizabeth Public School (Started Sept. 22; 5 student cases, 0 staff cases)
  • St. Stephen Catholic Elementary School (Started Sept. 22; 3 student cases, 0 staff cases)
  • St. John the Apostle elementary school (Started Sept. 23; 3 student cases, 0 staff cases)
  • École élémentaire catholique La Vérendrye (Started Sept. 24; 5 student cases, 0 staff cases)
  • St. Benedict Elementary School (Started Sept. 24; 8 student cases, 0 staff cases)
  • Briargreen Public School (Started Sept. 27; 2 student cases, 0 staff cases)

An outbreak is defined as two student or staff or visitor cases of laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 within a specified class within a 14-day period where at least one case could have reasonably acquired their infection at school (including transportation and before/after school care).

Ottawa Public Health does not provide the vaccination status of individuals who test positive for COVID-19.

COVID-19 CASES BY SCHOOL BOARD

Ottawa-Carleton District School Board

Last updated Sept. 28, 2021

  • Active student cases: 37
  • Active staff cases: 2
  • Active third-party* cases: 2
  • Resolved cases: 29
  • Total classes closed due to COVID-19: 0
  • Total cohorts closed due to COVID-19: 0
  • Total schools closed due to COVID-19: 0
  • Schools with active cases: 22 elementary, eight intermediate & secondary

*Third party refers to individuals who may be involved in a school who are not students or staff. This could include transportation providers, breakfast program volunteers, and other individuals who may frequently enter schools.

Ottawa Catholic School Board

Last updated Sept. 28, 2021

  • Active student cases: 29
  • Active staff cases: 5
  • Total classes closed due to COVID-19: 0
  • Total cohorts closed due to COVID-19: 0
  • Total schools closed due to COVID-19: 0
  • Schools with active cases: 14 elementary, two secondary

*The Ottawa Catholic School Board does not include resolved cases on its dashboard.

Conseil des écoles publiques de l'Est de l'Ontario

Last updated Sept. 28, 2021

  • Active student cases: 13
  • Active staff cases: 2
  • Resolved cases: 24
  • Total classes closed due to COVID-19: 4
  • Total cohorts closed due to COVID-19: 0
  • Total schools closed due to COVID-19: 0
  • Schools with active cases: Seven elementary, four secondary

Conseil des écoles catholiques du Centre-Est

Last updated Sept. 28, 2021

  • Active cases*: 22
  • Resolved cases: 72
  • Total classes in isolation due to COVID-19: 17
  • Partial school closures due to COVID-19: 3
  • Schools closed due to full COVID-19 outbreak: 0
  • Schools with active cases: 10 elementary, one secondary

*NOTE: The CECCE does not differentiate cases between students and staff.