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COVID-19 outbreaks in schools can be managed, says B.C.'s top doctor

Citynews 1130 Vancouver

Last Updated Sep 22, 2020 at 7:09 am PDT

Rear view of elementary age boy waiting to get on school bus. His classmates are loading the bus in the background.
Summary

A sore throat, runny nose have been removed from the list of symptoms for the student health checklist

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry explained the difference between outbreaks and clusters

Cases and exposures were expected in schools, health officials have shown they can be contained quickly: Henry

VICTORIA (NEWS 1130) — B.C.’s top doctor is offering assurances any outbreaks of COVID-19 inside schools can be contained quickly, despite more than two dozen exposures already reported since classes resumed.

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said most cases linked to schools so far have involved adults exposed outside that environment.

“We can be reassured by what we’re seeing and we are prepared and we will continue to work closely with every single school to make sure that we’re ready.”

The province confirmed Monday that a sore throat or runny nose have been removed from the list of symptoms for the student health checklist.

RELATED: COVID-19 exposure alerts among Metro Vancouver schools rise as week two of classes begins

“So that’s the key thing, if you have a slight runny nose by itself, then that in and of itself is not a reason for a child, and we’re talking about children here, to necessarily stay home from school,” Henry said.

“If you have those single symptoms then you can keep the child home for 24 hours and monitor and see how things go.”

She said the advice is different for adults.

Outbreak or cluster? 

Henry also explained the difference between clusters and outbreaks, and how they can be different, depending on the setting.

“There’s an assessment that’s done on every single case and every single situation,” she said, from whether an exposure was indoors or outdoors, whether people were wearing masks and how far apart they were.

“So a single case in a long-term care home we manage as an outbreak. And that means we take additional steps to reduce the number of people there,” Henry added.

“But unlike a school, we can’t send residents in a care home somewhere else if they’ve been exposed. So in a school, it’s a different environment.”

An outbreak involving a school is when transmission occurs between people who are perhaps in different classrooms or in different groups where additional measures need to be taken to ensure it is stopped, she said.

At least 26 exposures have been recorded involving schools so far.

Henry said most cases linked to schools so far have involved adults exposed outside that environment.

“And then the first week going back, where teachers spent time together, we had some exposures there. We’ve also had some exposures where somebody may not have been in the classroom setting for a period of time, or in a place where it was a risky exposure, but then spent time outside of school with a small number of other students, where those students may have had to stay home. So there’s a variety of situations.”

She said COVID-19 cases and exposures were expected in schools, and that health officials have shown they can be contained quickly.

Henry added the risk of transmission remains low, even if there is an outbreak.

“So most people are not in that situation. Even if you’re in a classroom with somebody who has COVID, if you’re sitting at a desk and you’re not close to them, you’ve not had close contact with them.”

For a map with the latest COVID-19 exposures in B.C. schools, click here.