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B.C. holds course on back-to-school plan despite soaring COVID-19 cases

Last Updated Nov 16, 2020 at 3:15 pm PST

FILE - B.C. Minister of Education Rob Fleming provides an update on part-time return to classes during a press conference at Monterey Middle School in Victoria, Tuesday, June 2, 2020. A group of COVID-19 modellers says the British Columbia government should increase physical distancing measures to help it more safely reopen schools next month. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Summary

The provincial government is not planning any major changes to its return-to-school plan despite rising COVID-19 cases

Education minister says B.C. will look at what other jurisdictions are doing and make suggestions

Rob Fleming says B.C. has yet to make a decision about extending the school break after Christmas

VICTORIA (NEWS 1130) — The provincial government is not planning any major changes to its return-to-school plan despite soaring COVID-19 cases and exposures in B.C. and the closure of several schools.

Education Minister Rob Fleming, speaking on a conference call Monday, said the province will look at what other jurisdictions are doing and suggestions about changes to the guidelines will be forwarded to the provincial health officer.

Meanwhile, remote learning options in place already will continue, as will in-class learning.

“I think what you’ve heard from the provincial health officer, from Fraser Health and other health authorities, is that we need to stop the spread of COVID in a way that will make the biggest difference possible right now,” Fleming said.

“That is community transmission in private households, gatherings that shouldn’t be happening — and, in fact, are prohibited under some existing restrictions. Obviously, making schools and other workplaces as safe as possible is something that the scientific leadership of the province is going to take at every stage in the pandemic, so if there are ideas about where we may revise some guidelines, either regionally or provincially, that will be considered,” he added.

RELATED: Household, community transmission driving COVID-19 surge in B.C.

“But the main task in the Fraser Health region that is really going to make a substantial difference is for people to follow the rules, to be aware of the new rules and restrictions that are in place, to follow them closely — especially as we’re in a festive season — and as we have holidays upon us, to be able to break those chains of transmission that have been appearing.”

While some provinces are considering extending the break after Christmas and into the new year, Fleming said B.C. has yet to make such a decision, as transmission rates in B.C. schools remain low.

He offered no word on fewer students in classes, as requested by the B.C. Teachers’ Federation, or making masks mandatory.

Fleming acknowledged that some parents are frustrated by a perceived lack of information regarding school exposures, but said as much as can be is being shared.

“Our ability to keep people safe is largely dependent on how quickly we can identify cases, and contact anyone who may have been part of exposure to a confirmed case that means that contact tracers are critically important,” he said.

Fleming also said privacy concerns are a significant consideration, especially concerning minors, to encourage people to come forward, and to avoid stigma.

On the weekend, Cambridge elementary in Surrey was ordered to close for two weeks after Fraser Health declared an outbreak of COVID-19 there.

Fleming said the latest number of confirmed cases at the school remains, seven.

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Fraser Health has also identified clusters of COVID-19 cases at an elementary school in Delta and an independent school in New Westminster. Both opted to voluntarily close for two weeks.

“Declaring it a cluster obviously means that, within the cohort, there was more than one case. I don’t have anything more specific than that,” he added.

“Obviously, there is going to be additional testing done. There are members of the school community being required to self-isolate and also will be tested in the days ahead,” Fleming said.

“The school community is preparing right now to transition to online virtual learning.”

That is to be in place by Wednesday.

Fleming reiterated that people need to stay home if feeling unwell and follow the restrictions on gatherings.

He said he couldn’t comment on the teacher from Cambridge elementary who’s in intensive care.

Cambridge is the second school in the province to have an outbreak declared. The first was at Kelowna’s École de l’Anse-au-sable.

On Friday, B.C. recorded 617 new cases.

Listen to the full audio with Education Minister Rob Fleming: