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Vancouver schools unlikely COVID-19 transmission sites, study finds

Last Updated Jun 22, 2021 at 12:04 pm PDT

FILE -- A sign outside Hastings Elementary Community School in Vancouver reminds anyone entering the school to adhere to COVID-19 protocols. (Lasia Kretzel, NEWS1130 Photo)
Summary

Authors of Vancouver study say risk of spreading COVID-19 in classrooms is the same as in wider community

Researchers say COVID infection rate among Vancouver school staff same as that among those who don't work in classrooms

Joint study by UBC, BC Children's Hospital, Vancouver Coastal Health not yet peer-reviewed, data shared early

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Despite concerns from teachers and parents, the authors of a Vancouver study say the risk of spreading COVID-19 in schools is no greater than in the wider community.

In fact, the risk is identical, according to joint research by UBC, BC Children’s Hospital, and Vancouver Coastal Health.

Researchers looked at blood samples and infections among 1,556 teachers and staff throughout the Vancouver school district and found 2.3 per cent tested positive for antibodies to the virus that causes COVID-19. They say that mirrors the rate of positive tests from a matching group of people who did not work in schools.

The upshot, according to the study, is there is limited chance of developing the illness through contact in a school setting.

“Despite high reported COVID-19 cases among students and staff, and frequent within-school exposures, we found no detectable increase in seroprevalence among school staff above the community seroprevalence. These findings corroborate claims that, with appropriate mitigation strategies, in-person schooling is not associated with significantly increased risk for school staff,” researchers state in the article abstract.

The study has yet to be peer-reviewed but was published early to share the data quickly.

Dr. Louise Masse, the article’s co-lead researcher and a professor in the School of Population and Public Health at UBC, says it’s hoped the findings will guide future decisions about school openings and closures.

Vancouver School Board superintendent Suzanne Hoffman says it’s important schools stay open, not just for learning but for the social, mental, and physical well-being of students.

“These results reaffirm that with the protocols we have in place, schools are safe places to teach and learn,” she said in a statement.

The study was funded by the federal government through its COVID-19 Immunity Task Force.

In September, things are expected to be back to near-normal when kids return to the classroom. The smaller learning cohorts, which were introduced last year in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19, will no longer be in place.

“Students will be back in the classroom for full time in-person instruction,” B.C. Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside said on Thursday.

“Students will no longer be grouped into cohorts or learning groups, pending a further public health guidance. It’s also expected the current restrictions on gatherings, extracurricular activities and sports will be relaxed in time for the new school year,” she added.

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Remote learning will no longer be an option.

Dr. Bonnie Henry said field trips and assemblies will also likely happen again in the next school year.

Mask-wearing standards in schools will be set later this summer.

According to B.C.’s restart plan, masks could go from “mandatory” in indoor public spaces to “recommended” as early as July 1. If all goes to plan, they could become a “personal choice” by early September.

B.C.’s COVID-19 numbers have been on a steady decline. On Monday, the province recorded just 45 new cases in the past day, the lowest figure seen since last August.

As of Monday, there were 108 patients hospitalized with the illness, including 48 in intensive care. Over 77 per cent of adults in B.C. and over 75 per cent of those aged 12 and up have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.