B.C. to resume notifying schools about COVID-19 exposures

B.C. to resume notifying schools about COVID-19 exposures

British Columbia will resume public notifications about COVID-19 exposures at schools.

Dr. Bonnie Henry, the provincial health officer, said during a press conference Tuesday that health officials are working on a school exposures notification system that is expected to be in place by the end of the week.

“I have asked our team to get together right now to make sure that we can notify schools in a timely, less intrusive, and more sustainable way and that parents will have access to that information rapidly,” she said. “I hope to have that in place by the end of this week so that you can have a better understanding of what is happening at your child’s school.”

The decision to resume notifications come less than three weeks after Henry announced that, unlike the previous two school years, the province would no longer notify school administrators when a single exposure had been identified within its community, citing increased anxiety from parents.

“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,” she said back on Aug. 31, days before the start of the new school year.

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

Although notification letters are sent home to parents when there is a possible exposure or cluster, the exposures have not been posted publicly, as had been standard practice throughout the pandemic.

But since children returned to the classroom on Sept. 7, the provincial government has faced increasing criticism about the lack of notifications particularly as cases skyrocket — nearly 9,000 new cases have been identified since the first day of school — and concerns about the Delta variant persist.

The B.C. Teachers Federation publicly urged the province to resume notifications in schools as they were the previous two school years, saying that parents and educators are anxious about the lack of notifications.

Parents have also spoken out about their concerns. Elizabete Costa, told CHEK News last week that her son became infected with COVID-19 immediately after his first day of class at Monterey Middle School. She said that a notification about the exposure went out three days later after she informed the school about her son’s positive test.

Melissa Carvalho, whose child attends Sir James Douglas Elementary, told CHEK News on Monday that she also want to see faster notifications.

“I would say that would be critical. We were just notified of a low potential exposure that happened on Monday, last Monday,” she said.

Fortunately, the public has become aware of some exposures at schools this year thanks to efforts of the BC School Covid Tracker, an independent online group that has been tracking and publicly reporting out school exposures.

The group has been relying on exposure notification letters received by parents, school administrators, and other reliable sources. Island schools appear on their exposure list more than 30 times in the past two weeks.

MORE: COVID-19 cases reported at multiple Island schools in first week

Henry, on Tuesday, said one of the reasons for reverting back to public notifications was because parents need an “authoritative source” that they can go to for information about exposures in schools, in what appeared to be a vague reference to the group.

“Our teams have recognized that parents do need an authoritative source to go to have an understanding of what is happening at their children’s schools,” she said.

B.C.’s top doctor also stressed that if a child has been exposed to COVID-19 in a school setting, their parents or guardians will be notified.

“If your child has COVID, if your child has been exposed to somebody with COVID in a school system, you will be notified,” she said. “It does take time to follow up on each individual case and that sometimes can take longer than you expect, but you will be notified and public health teams are prioritizing schools because we know how important it is that children are safely in schools and able to have all of the learning experience in the school setting.”

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Nicholas PescodNicholas Pescod

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