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COVID-19 risk in B.C. schools managed with contact tracing: top doctor

Last Updated Oct 1, 2020 at 6:26 pm PDT

FILE -- Personal protection equipment is seen on the teacher's desk in classroom in preparation for the new school year at the Willingdon Elementary School in Montreal, on Wednesday, August 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

The provincial health officer says the work of contract tracers is helping to identify risk of COVID-19 transmission

Dr. Bonnie Henry says she is confident contact tracing in schools is working

Henry says there haven't been any outbreaks in school, but it is a possibility

VICTORIA (NEWS 1130) —  As B.C.’s top doctor says the province continues to be flexible in its approach to school exposures, she assures that contact tracers are successfully identifying risks of transmission.

The first month back at school in B.C. came with confusion and anxiety for many parents and teachers as exposures alerts popped up around the province. Frustration mounted as health authorities differed in their approaches for updating exposure notices in schools.

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But Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Thursday she is confident contact tracing in schools is working as it should.

“We know that because we are able to manage and determine every single exposure event, whether there has been transmission in the school setting, who has been close contacts, and making sure that those people have been isolated so that we break those chains of transmission. They’re not able — if they get sick — to pass it on to others.”

She noted there have been school-aged children and teachers who have tested positive for the virus, but weren’t at school during their infection incubation period.

“Those are not exposure events we would notify, in terms of the school.”

Henry also said there isn’t any evidence yet of any transmissions within schools.

“There are different measures in place to ensure that anybody who has been exposed is self-isolating and staying away from others if they develop any symptoms or there are concerns, that they’re tested.”

While Henry said an outbreak hasn’t happened in a B.C. school, it is a possibility.

Contact tracing, monitoring to prevent spread

Henry said the province has modified how it handles outbreaks, and exposure events during the pandemic, and what is being done in schools is in line with how communicable diseases have been dealt with in that environment.

She said the virus is being carefully monitored to prevent it from spreading, pointing to the success of contact tracers.

Related story: B.C. sets COVID-19 daily testing record, cases levelling off, says top doctor

“Every time there is a school exposure, public health contact tracing kicks into gear,” she said.

“Even if you have been in a school setting with somebody, you may not be a close contact, you may be at risk of exposure yourself. Anybody who did not contact where the virus could have been transmitted has been contacted by public health,” Henry said.

Those who don’t have close contacts are asked to monitor for symptoms.

She also explained the differences in how exposures, clusters, and outbreaks are being defined.

A school exposure event is when someone has tested positive for the coronavirus and has been inside a school during their infectious period.

A cluster is when two or more people confirmed positive attend school.

If there is ongoing, widespread transmission in a school, and it isn’t clear who is transmitting the virus to who, then it is considered an outbreak.

-With files from Marcella Bernardo