'She's falling behind': Some students, staff already self-isolating as school COVID cases rise

Just one week into the new school year, public and Catholic schools in Waterloo Region have already reported more than 10 COVID-19 cases among students and staff.

With pandemic protocols in place, that means some are already self-isolating.

Dana and Jason Gaulton's eight-year-old daughter Willow is currently in self-isolation after a student in her class at Holy Rosary Catholic School tested positive for COVID-19.

"She was so excited, one of the most excited ones out of our three to go to school and now she's in her bedroom," Dana said.

The couple said they received a notice from public health on Saturday letting them know Willow was a high-risk contact. Two days later, the Catholic school board reported a positive COVID-19 case.

"This is hard like she's falling behind and I can only do so much as a parent to keep her up to speed," Dana said.

Willow, too young to get vaccinated, but self-isolate until Sept. 19 and test negative before returning to class.

"Two weeks from now, we'll both be back to work and if this comes up against it's going to leave us in a tight spot," Jason said.

COVID-19 cases have also been identified in students at St. Gabriel, St. Benedict and St. Brigid. A staff member at St. Mary's high school has also tested positive.

"We're averaging pretty close to one a day, which is a pretty shocking number," said Patrick Etmanski, Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association Waterloo president, adding he's not surprised by the rough return to school.

"They're still having the sleepovers and parties and they're still socializing," Etmanski said.

Meanwhile, the Waterloo Region District School Board has reported six school COVID-19 cases, five in students and one in a staff member. All of the positive cases are at different schools.

The Region of Waterloo health unit has been made aware of all cases within schools and any contacts have been notified to self-isolate.

But the vice-president of the local elementary teachers' union says more needs to be done to protect students, such as rapid testing.

"We continue to ask for smaller class sizes, improvements to the ventilation to ensure that it is safe as possible because, at this point, I think it would be hard to say our schools are the safest they could be," said Jeff Pelich, Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario Waterloo Region vice president.