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No plans to shut down schools despite rising COVID-19 concerns, Fraser Health says

Last Updated Nov 5, 2020 at 8:34 am PDT

FILE - Specimens to be tested for COVID-19 are seen at a lab, in Surrey, B.C., on Thursday, March 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Concerns remain about COVID-19 cases in Fraser Health, but the regional authority says it has no plans to close schools

Surrey schools are increasing cleaning and Chilliwack youth sports have shut down amid concerns from parents

Fraser Health has been criticized by some for its communication and handling of the COVID-19 pandemic

SURREY (NEWS 1130) – The Fraser Health region remains B.C.’s hotspot for COVID-19 cases, and concerns are rising over the regional health authority’s handling of the pandemic.

From increased cleaning in some school districts to sports programs shutting down entirely, some steps are being taken as parents demand better communication from health officials.

On Wednesday, the Fraser Health Authority reported 205 cases of COVID-19, of B.C.’s 355 new infections.

However, despite the worrying concentration of COVID-19 cases, Fraser Health says schools are to remain open.

“We have seen a very significant number of exposures in our school, but those are only exposures and very few of them have gone on to result in transmission,” Dr. Elizabeth Brodkin said Wednesday.

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Brodkin says measures in place in schools appear to be working and the agency is satisfied with how contact tracing is going.

“We have no plans to close our schools. I want to remind everyone that our schools are actually relatively safe places in the scale of things. In fact, transmission is less likely to take place in the school settings than in other settings, and there are good COVID safety plans in place which have helped to keep the students, and their families, and the teachers safe,” Brodkin added.

The Surrey school district has purchased 145 electrostatic sprayers, meant to disinfect areas where sick children have been.

In response to questions around the reporting of cases at schools in the region, Fraser Health said that its notification process has not changed, despite a rising number of cases at local schools.

“The school notification process takes 24 hours. So the cases come in over the course of the previous day, they’re identified as being linked to a particular school, and it’s not until the following day that that information actually goes up on our website,” Brodkin said, adding Fraser Health is always reviewing its response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Meanwhile, sports and youth activities have shut down en masse in some parts of the province, with leagues from ringette to soccer making the call proactively, without being told to do so.

This comes as 38 people are now linked to an outbreak at a dance facility in Chilliwack.

“We have observed, not just because of this outbreak, but some previous clusters that we’ve identified, that some settings appear to be higher risk for the transmission of COVID-19 than others, and it appears that fitness facilities or gyms, where large numbers of people are coming together to exercise, appear to be associated with higher risk of transmission,” Brodkin explained, adding Fraser Health was “taking a closer look at these settings,” but noting there were no orders in place to force them to close as of yet.

When it comes to criticism about its handling of the Capella Dance Studio outbreak, Fraser Health it would be reaching out to the owner directly to address any specific concerns she has.

In that case the owner was told she didn’t need to close her dance studio and wasn’t asked to isolate until 6 days after she became ill and was told to inform only students she worked with directly.

The owner closed the studio and informed the entire roster of clients of potential exposure, saying many chose to be tested and were positive, resulting in Fraser Health being criticized for not communicating faster and accused of lagging behind on contact tracing.

The health agency is encouraging people to get tested early, even if their symptoms are mild, saying identifying cases early can help avoid delays.

However, when it came to claims Fraser Health had lagged in its response to the outbreak at Capella Dance Academy, Brodkin said “timelines were met.”

-With files from Marcella Bernardo