B.C.’s top doctor doesn’t anticipate ‘an explosion’ of COVID-19 cases after kids return to school

B.C.'s top doctor doesn't anticipate 'an explosion' of COVID-19 cases after kids return to school

With thousands of children expected to return to the classroom on Sept. 7 in British Columbia, the province’s top doctor says she isn’t expecting to see a massive spike in COVID-19 cases in the days and weeks that follow.

During a COVID-19 modelling briefing Tuesday, Dr. Bonnie Henry, the province’s provincial health officer, said that while infections will likely rise once kids return to the classroom, there won’t be a significant increase.

“We don’t expect to see an explosion of COVID-19 cases,” she said. “It is, absolutely, not surprising that we will see an increase in cases and they are related to communities where we are seeing an increase in transmission within the community.”

According to Henry, there are around 600,000 children in B.C. who are not eligible for vaccination, but that could change in the weeks ahead.

“We expect that vaccination for the 6 to 11-year-olds will be coming, hopefully, soon in the fall,” said Henry.

However, for the time being, the province’s top doctor said anyone with children under 12 or anyone connected to a school environment should get vaccinated before the start of the new year.

“It’s really important because your child’s risk is directly related to the risk in their family, of the adults in their family, and the older siblings,” Henry said, adding. “We are already working with the school boards to make sure we have vaccines available in the first few weeks of school.”

Henry also touched on improved ventilation systems in schools during Tuesday’s update. She said the province has been working with schools around improved ventilation.

“Ventilation is something we have been working on from the beginning, every school has done an assessment … but the way this virus is transmitted has not changed,” she said. “Whether it is the strain we had last week, the strain we had last year, the way it has transmitted has not changed. The dose that you need to be infected has gone down, so a more transmissible virus.”

“We did a lot of work with WorkSafeBC around different workplaces. The higher risk workplaces, for example, the food processing plants, where we saw a lot of transmissions; we have done a lot of different measures and we see that they are working. Some of them are ventilation, it’s about barriers, it’s about immunization of people in those settings and that right now is holding.

Exposure notifications changing

During Tuesday’s modelling briefing, Henry said the province will not be notifying the school when there is a single exposure.

“We will not be doing the notification to schools if there has been a single exposure. They will be doing an assessment, as we do for every communicable disease, and every individual who is at risk will be notified.”

Henry said the feedback the province received, suggested that the school-based exposure notification letters did more harm than good.

“The majority of people felt that the school-based letters anxiety-provoking than helpful, but we will absolutely be keeping the schools informed and working with the schools, with our school response teams to make sure that every single case in a school setting is identified, that contacts are managed and that the people are informed about what is happening in the school setting and yes, every cluster or outbreak will be reported.”

Overall, Henry expressed optimism that based on the measures that will be in place and with increased vaccinations, there will be limited transmission in schools.

“We know from last year that the measures we had in place in schools meant that there was very little transmission in school settings. That’s why we have put in place the same measures that we had pretty much in place last year,” she said.

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Nicholas PescodNicholas Pescod

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