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Social anxiety likely as B.C. kids, teens head back to class during COVID-19

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Summary

Return to in-class learning could trigger social anxiety for some students: therapist

B.C. is prepared to respond to any COVID-19 in schools

Dr. Bonnie Henry expects ‘one or two’ COVID-19 cases could pop up in schools

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — Monday marks the first day of school all over again as students head back on a part-time, voluntary basis across the province.

The emergence from isolation could mean a new level of anxiety for kids who’ve been trapped inside for two and a half months, says a family therapist.

“Being isolated for a long period of time, I think it’s sometimes harder to come back out and be with people, so their social anxiety, sometimes, could be a little increased,” Jodi Aman, who is the author of Anxiety, I Am So Done With You, and who hosts a YouTube channel on mental health, tells NEWS 1130.

She says parents should be on the lookout for signs of mental health issues in their kids, but expects general social anxiety will pass as they get used to seeing their friends again, which she adds should be encouraged.

“If a kid’s continuing to isolate themselves and not getting together with friends that would be a red flag, I’d be really worried. I’d really want them to get out of the room and get out doing stuff,” she says, adding being outdoors is a “very safe” option, which echoes the advice of health officials in British Columbia.

Kids and teens aren’t watching as much news as the rest of us, says Aman, so they seem to be less afraid of actually getting sick.

“They’re more stressed out about the isolation they’ve experienced … having to be with their parents all the time, you know, they’re supposed to be with their friends at this age.”

Potential outbreaks

On Saturday, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry told reporters she does expect some outbreaks as a result of a return to classrooms, but says the province is equipped to handle them.

“It is possible, and I would not be surprised, if we did have one or two cases perhaps, arise in our schools in the coming weeks,” she said, adding Monday and Tuesday will be “a little bit fun” for kids, but also “anxiety-provoking for all of us.”

“But that’s okay we know how to deal with this, we know that it is not easily spread and we know we can prevent it by putting into place the measures we have in schools.”

Henry said 77 people under the age of 19 have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in B.C. since the beginning of the pandemic.

Pointing to schools in Quebec, where outbreaks occurred after reopening, Henry said those represented a very small number compared to the rate of students returning, and most cases were of adults bringing the virus into schools.

But even as schools reopen, a new Provincial Health Order came down mandating the closure of overnight camps for kids.

“Such camps often have large numbers of children coming from many areas, campers and councillors, and they often take place in remote areas and physical distancing is very much a challenge in these situations,” she explained.

Instead, Henry is encouraging day camps and says it is safe to stay outside in small groups.

‘Move slowly with thoughtful consideration’

All 60 of B.C.’s school districts will be posting return to school safety plans to their websites, according to the province. Those plans were submitted to the Ministry of Education before this week.

While every school has to enforce hand washing upon arrival and physical distancing in classrooms, there are various plans in place.

In some schools only staff and students will be allowed inside, others are even asking older high school students to return home between classes, if possible.

However, many school playgrounds and fields will be re-opening, which is in line with the direction of Lower Mainland municipalities.

Every school has a different plan for scheduling students who could be returning as little as one day a week and up to five, depending on arrangements.

“We don’t want to put aside the sacrifices we have all made in the last few months and undo the progress we have made,” Henry said. “So, to keep COVID-19 at bay, I am asking you, again, to stay slow and keep low numbers of people around you. Move slowly with thoughtful consideration and let’s keep our curve flat at schools, work, friends, and family.”