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Vancouver students call for more transparency, masks mandate after COVID-19 exposure

Last Updated Jan 28, 2021 at 12:54 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

Two Vancouver high school students want changes to school safety measures, transparency now that they're in isolation

One student who has COVID-19 says he found out his teacher had the virus through another student

A parent with twins in the class says this is the first time she has felt wary about sending her kids to school

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Students from a Vancouver high school, who are in isolation, say they want to see more transparency when someone is infected — as well as mandatory masks.

Thomas O’Flynn says he now has COVID-19, he’s not shy about it and doesn’t understand why there was secrecy around it in his class, especially after his teacher tested positive for the virus.

“I didn’t actually figure out that our teacher had COVID and that I had to get tested because I was exposed to her. I had to find out through friends,” he explains. “Students if they do test positive — or if the teachers test positive — the students in that class should be alerted, and there should be an exposure notice immediately.”

He didn’t learn that his teacher had COVID-19 until after she had apparently told a student about having the virus in an email about homework, O’Flynn says.

He wants to see more transparency when it comes to alerting school communities about exposures.

“I think there should be a better procedure in knowing,” he says, adding he doesn’t blame the teacher.

Calls for mandatory masks

Alek Cisak is in the same class and did not catch the virus, but wants masks mandatory for everyone.

He says he was going to complain to the principal that his teacher was inconsistent with covering her face in class.

“When she’s in the class without a mask on and only puts it on when she walks around the room, it aggravated me,” he says. “I was going to call the school about it to let them know that she does not wear a mask behind her desk. She sits there without a mask on, and even when she does a presentation to the class, talking toward the class, she’s talking without a mask on.”

Ultimately, the students can’t confirm where they contracted the virus, and they say between four and seven people in the class have the virus.

The health authority won’t confirm the numbers linked to the class.

RELATED: COVID-19 concerns mount as B.C. students return to class after winter break

After one of Tanya George’s twins, who are in the same classroom, contracted the virus, she started to feel wary of school for the first time now that the family is isolating.

“I don’t want this to keep happening every time off of them gets exposed, so I’m hoping wearing masks is going to become something that’s standard in school,” she says.

George says her son has also claimed the teacher is often seen without masks, but most students seem to be wearing them.

While she wants everyone to wear masks in class she also understands there is no certainty as to where her son’s case came from or what students do outside class.

“All I can do is get my kids to wear masks, and they say they do,” George says.

The BC Teachers’ Federation has been calling for mandatory masks since school started in September. Without a mandate, the president of the union said it can only ask its members to wear face coverings.

RELATED: ‘It takes time, but it is getting done’: B.C.’s top doctor says of COVID-19 school exposure notice delivery

Data released by Vancouver Coastal Health earlier this month indicated transmission in school is very low in that region.

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has defended her position that the safety measures in place at school are effective and that isn’t the environment where the virus is spreading the most.

“Though we have quite a lot of exposure events where people have been in the school setting, there still is very rarely transmission in those settings and if it is, it’s mostly to one or most two other people and we’ve had very few outbreaks,” she said in December. 

Since January, there have been more than 400 potential COVID-19 exposures at schools in B.C.