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COVID-19 cases in B.C. schools worry parents despite Dr. Henry's reassurances

Last Updated Oct 5, 2020 at 11:16 pm PST

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
Summary

Parents say they still aren't getting the information they need about COVID-19 cases in schools

An open letter to public health officials demanding more stringent school protocols got 1,000 signatures in mere hours

Dr. Bonnie Henry says families are getting the information they need, contact-tracing is working as it should

VICTORIA (NEWS 1130) — The calls for public health to give more information about COVID-19 cases in classrooms are getting louder.

While the Provincial Health Officer insists parents are getting the information they need, some parents disagree.

Tom Beattie says he knows this frustration first-hand.

His second grader has the virus and the whole family now isolating. Beattie’s son’s class at Caulfeild Elementary has a cluster of cases that’s lead to all the kids being kept home.

Beattie says he keeps hearing health officials citing privacy as a reason to hold back information from parents and teachers.  But he says this isn’t just a personal health matter, it’s a pandemic.

“The total lack of transparency is completely unacceptable because people can’t make informed decisions and it’s a real problem,” he says.

Even though his child is at the centre of the West Vancouver school’s cluster, he says parents were mostly left in the dark.

“What should have happened is an immediate release of how many kids in which classes or which grades had it,” he adds.

In a public health briefing Monday, Dr. Bonnie Henry says she understands parents concerns and hears the frustration.

“I actually think parents are getting the whole picture. As I said, the public health teams on the ground are working with every school, every school community. Every parent who needs to know has that information and what we post publicly is every single exposure event,” Henry explains.

“That was the concern, that there was some of these events were not being publicly posted. And I can clarify that that communication glitch has been solved.”

Henry says there are 2,000 schools in the province, and exposure warnings have only been issued for a small number of those.

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For parent, Shannon Rickman, that’s not enough.

Neither of her children’s schools have had COVID-19 exposures yet but she says seeing the lack of details provided in exposure warnings is eroding her trust. She wants to at least see public health share the number of cases at each school. Ideally, she says, notices would provide Details about how many cases have been identified among students and how many among staff.

“If they’re asking us to trust them with our children, they need to trust us with complete and accurate information,” she says.

Rickman says she’s not at all confident families are getting the information they need to make informed decisions.

“I’m not looking for an excuse to pull my kids out of school, but when you are being told things are one way and you’re seeing it as another way — it looks like we are being lied to,” she says.

Dr. Henry says there needs to be a balance between what people what to hear and can be made public. She want parents to have confidence those who need to know do, and that contact tracing are working effectively.

“The priority for the public health teams, of course, is to notify those students, staff, teachers who were close contacts of that exposure event, and to make sure that the school community is aware that we are making sure that everyone who has been exposed is notified.”

Vancouver Coastal Health faced criticism for failing to publicly post all school exposures during the first few weeks of classes.

That issue appears to be rectified and Dr. Henry is assuring British Columbians that all health authorities have since been publishing notices about every school exposure.

The West Vancouver mom running a Facebook group where parents share information about COVID-19 cases in schools in the community has penned an open letter to Henry and Vancouver Coastal Health’s top doctor Patricia Daly asking for more transparency.

The letter gained nearly one thousand signatures within hours.

It asks for two significant changes to current protocols when it comes to who is and is not ordered to self-isolate.

First, it asks for self-isolation to be mandatory for the entire cohort as soon as a positive case is identified.

“Instead of waiting for contact tracing to identify which close contacts need to self-isolate, notify parents and teachers immediately and require the entire cohort self-isolate and have contact tracing identify which students are able to return to class,” it reads.

Next, it asks that any school-aged siblings of children who have been asked to self-isolate also be required to stay home.

“Your plan to have a full return to school relies on parents trusting your system will keep their children safe,” the letter reads.

“Start rebuilding that trust by giving us the transparency and more stringent safety protocols as outlined above.”