Confirmed COVID cases at elementary schools in Greater Trail and across the province have prompted a policy change for the BC Health Authority.
Parents, who wished to remain anonymous, contacted the Trail Times fearing a COVID outbreak among the student population at Webster and Glenmerry Elementary School and St. Michael’s Catholic School.
Last week, St. Michael’s principal Julia Mason sent out an email reminding parents to perform the daily health check and keep their children at home if they have any COVID symptoms.
“Do not be alarmed, but you can assume there are COVID cases in schools,” she wrote. “Interior Health has asked a class to self-monitor. This means, the students in this class can continue to attend classes. If a student develops symptoms, they should stay home and seek testing. Self-monitoring for symptoms and staying home if you are sick is the best way to slow the spread of COVID-19.”
Mason also explained why school staff could not comment on any cases within their respective schools.
“You may have heard there are COVID cases at our school and are probably wondering why I have not informed our parent population. Unfortunately, I am unable to send that information out to the public unless Interior Health has given me the go-ahead.”
The BC Health Authority pivoted on that policy on Tuesday (Sept. 28) and announced its decision to post K-12 “potential exposure events” on its website starting immediately.
“As I said last week we would be updating our school notification approach because we know it wasn’t meeting the needs of our communities, so as of today the regional health authorities will start posting K-12 potential exposure events on their website and there will be a link at the BCCDC website,” said provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry in a briefing Tuesday afternoon.
A search of the website confirmed that there were COVID exposures at Webster Elementary from Sept. 14 to Sept. 17 and Sept. 22 to Sept. 24, St. Michael’s from Sept. 14 to Sept. 17 and Sept. 20-23, and Glenmerry Sept. 20-22.
School District 20 superintendent Katherine Shearer explained to the Times that the district’s role is to address functional or operational changes, and allow Interior Health (IH) to respond to COVID queries.
“I can’t answer any information around COVID-19 cases, that has to come from them (IH), but I can tell you they do monitor the cases with School District 20 and when we see them trending or increasing, I reach out to our medical health officer,” said Shearer. “We work with them to discuss the situation and look at whether or not additional measures might need to be put in place or additional communications.”
Shearer spoke with IH medical health officer Dr. Karen Bloemink on Monday and while she is appreciative of the work the health authority is doing, she would like to see more of a partnership emerge between education and health.
“It’s much easier for people to find their way to our school principals and to myself,” said Shearer. “We end up getting a lot of these questions, so I told her I’m very much willing to be a part of even doing something jointly, where she is speaking to the decisions that Interior Health has put in place.
“But I’m there as well,” Shearer adds. “So people can see there is a partnership and I do reach out to them to say, ‘I’m noticing this are you?’”
While the K-12 web notifications will inform the schools and the public of potential exposures, they may be delayed given the lag time between lab test results and individual parent online postings.
Henry also noted that the number of cases in school age children also reflects overall community vaccination rates, and the best way to prevent them is to get two doses of a COVID vaccine.
“The risk to those who are vaccinated is much, much less than the risk to those who are unvaccinated, so we take that into account as well when we are talking about a school setting,” said Henry.
IH told the Times that there have been no outbreaks declared in Interior Health schools, adding, “but we have seen school cases in schools in the broader Trail area.”
It is important to stress that behind the scenes, nothing has changed, IH stated.
“Interior Health continues to prioritize schools for contact tracing and closely monitoring the transmission of COVID-19 in Interior Health schools.”