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Glenlyon-Norfolk closes campuses as virus precaution; person getting COVID-19 test

Glenlyon-Norfolk School has closed both of its campuses ahead of spring break as a precaution because a member of its school community is being tested for COVID-19.
Glenlyon Norfolk School
Glenlyon Norfolk School in Victoria is closed as a "community member" is tested for COVID-19.

Glenlyon-Norfolk School has closed both of its campuses ahead of spring break as a precaution because a member of its school community is being tested for COVID-19.

Its campuses on Bank Street in Victoria and on Beach Drive in Oak Bay, including their playgrounds and sports fields, were empty of students on Tuesday. The independent school is the first institution on the Island to close due to the novel coronavirus outbreak, which has so far seen 39 people in B.C. test positive for the disease, including one who has since died.

Another B.C. independent school, Collingwood School in West Vancouver, announced Monday it was closing ahead of spring break, after one family’s close contact tested positive for COVID-19.

The Glenlyon-Norfolk closing applies to all sporting events, special events, field trips and clubs for the remainder of the week at both its campuses.

Head of school Glenn Zederayko sent a letter to parents Monday night informing them of the decision.

“This evening, we learned that a member of the GNS community who has been in the school for a significant period of time this past week is ill and, based on their travel history, has been advised by their physician to self-quarantine at home, to await the results of a COVID-19 test,” Zederayko wrote in the letter.

“While their doctor advises that the risk is limited, we have made the difficult decision to close the school early for spring break beginning Tuesday, March 10, out of an abundance of caution.”

Zederayko said safety remains the priority, but it’s also important to stay calm. “We are hopeful that the individual has not been infected, but we wanted to act quickly to safeguard our community,” he said.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said other B.C. schools have also opted to close for a couple of days for cleaning, which, she said, was not absolutely necessary.

“It’s a decision a school can make,” said Henry at a news conference on Tuesday in Vancouver. “School closures, both reactive and proactive, are things that are in our toolbox as sometimes being beneficial for stopping transmission of these types of infections.”

Henry said children have been relatively spared so far in the outbreak, but it’s not clear what role they play in transmitting infections. “We know for example with influenza, young people can be very efficient transmitters without getting very sick themselves,” she said.

There doesn’t appear to be that same type of a risk with novel coronavirus so far, “but we are obviously watching that very carefully,” said Henry. “I think there’s a lot of really good work being done in schools around the province.”

Glenlyon-Norfolk will be “deep cleaning” both campuses over the March break, with a plan to resume classes as scheduled on March 31.

Darren Lewis, superintendent of Pacific Christian School off the Patricia Bay Highway north of McKenzie Avenue, said having a school close increases anxiety.

“We need to both protect our students and staff through appropriate responses and to be measured so that we do not unduly add to the generalized anxiety that exists,” Lewis said in an email.

Lewis said Pacific Christian would defer to health authorities’ advice on closures.

St. Michaels University School also remains open, said Stuart Hill, director of marketing and communications. “Our response committee, made up of the school’s senior leaders and health team staff, continues to monitor all available sources of information and communicates regularly with local health professionals and to our school community.”

St. Margaret’s School principal Sharon Klein wrote to reassure families that there are still no confirmed cases of coronavirus on Vancouver Island, “and that our provincial health officer is not recommending wholesale school closures at this time.”

“We are in continual contact with other independent schools, both in B.C. and across the country,” wrote Klein in an email to parents. “Other than Collingwood School in West Vancouver and GNS, all B.C. independent schools are currently remaining open.”

Sooke School District superintendent Scott Stinson said the district continues to monitor the COVID-19 situation. It has students in northern France on a school trip, and other trips to England and Ecuador are still going ahead “at this point.”

Stinson said custodial staff has been focusing on cleaning “touch points and high-traffic areas,” and extra staff will be brought in over spring break for additional cleaning.

Shelley Green, Greater Victoria School District superintendent, said the district is taking precautions based on health officials’ advice, including looking at all field trips. “All have been cancelled over spring break except one.”

That trip is to Mexico, where students are going to an outlying area to build a pair of houses.

Trips slated for early April are being assessed, as well, including one to New York.

In the event Glenlyon-Norfolk is closed beyond the end of the scheduled spring break, administrators are creating a contingency plan for remote curriculum delivery.

“We will be working on arrangements to allow people to access essential items from the school buildings, which are currently closed and secure, when it is safe to do so,” Zederayko said.

— With files from Jeff Bell