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COVID-19 in elementary schools a source of concern

A pair of education stakeholders are sounding the alarm bells over the spike in COVID-19 cases among children, especially those under the age of 10.

According to the BC Teachers Federation (BCTF), the increase is due to the Delta variant as well as the return to class.

President, Teri Mooring told Vista Radio while the symptoms among children aren’t as severe, the virus should not be taken lightly by parents.

“I do understand that according to health officials children don’t get as ill and I think that is cold comfort for someone who might have a child that has underlying medical concerns that just wants to ensure their children don’t get COVID-19 with all the concerns that it comes with.”

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“We do see that the elementary schools are more of a concern because children in elementary schools for the most part aren’t eligible to be vaccinated.”

The BCTF is once again calling for additional measures to be put into place, like a K-3 mask policy as well as asymptomatic testing and public reporting of ventilation systems.

Last week, Dr. Bonnie Henry changed her mind about notifying parents of COVID-19 exposures in our schools.

Earlier this month, Henry noted the province wouldn’t post notices if there was only one case detected.

The information would only be made public if there were clusters or outbreaks of infections.

However, she’s heard from parents they want all the information available. The Ministry of Health is now working to develop a proper reporting system.

But, Mooring and the rest of her colleagues still aren’t sure what that will look like.

“We have still yet to see how accessible that information or how meaningful it will be. Our concerns will be and we remain all aligned that there was too much of a reliance on the experience of last year where the Delta variant was not responsible for almost all the cases in schools.”

Prince George District Teachers Association President, Joanne Hapke points to Northern Health’s low vaccination rate as part of the problem.

“Whatever is happening in the community is what is being brought into the schools. So, when we are looking at what is happening in our schools when we don’t have a high rate of vaccination in the north then that is what our students are bringing into the classrooms.”

“What I would like to see is that all adults who can get the vaccine to be vaccinated. If everyone does their part to keep those who cannot be vaccinated safely then we would not be thinking about the extra measures.”

According to the latest data from the BCCDC, 71% of eligible residents in the PG Local Health Area are fully immunized, which is about 10 points lower than the provincial mark.

Hapke is also of the opinion the standard of cleaning in schools across the province isn’t anywhere close to the same level as it was last year.

“We do know that most elementary schools do not have daytime custodians this year. There are extra custodians to go around and do the extra cleaning but are not stationed in the schools.”

When asked if there is a scenario where schools could shut down altogether similar to March of 2020 when the pandemic first hit, Hapke, stated the answer to that question is anybody’s guess.

“It’s really hard to answer that question because right now, we do not have accurate data to give an informed answer on that. What I will say is that I have heard information from various schools of COVID cases but when we got on to the Northern Health site to see what the true data is, there is nothing.”

“Could we be looking at shut down? I don’t know because we are not being informed of the positive cases within our school district right now.”

with files from Vista Radio news wire, Dione Wearmouth, staff

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