“We don’t have any education-based data on what’s actually happening in the schools,” says BCTF president Teri Mooring.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has no plans to suspend in-class learning in Surrey schools to help manage the rising COVID-19 caseload and hospitalizations among young people in that city.
“What we have learned is that we see cases go up when children are not in school and that is often because they have unstructured time and children need school,” said Henry on Tuesday — the day that Toronto suspended all in-class learning and Quebec reversed an order that would have allowed full-time in class learning for Grades 9, 10 and 11.
“We know (school) is a safe place for (children) where emotional, physical as well as educational growth happens and that families and communities are best supported when we have children safely in school. So we’ll still be focusing on that.”
Henry reported 1,068 new cases of COVID-19 over the past day — including 207 cases of variants of concern. The seven-day average daily case count has been accelerating since March 19 and represents a third wave of the disease. There are 8,671 active cases of COVID-19 in B.C.
Henry said the number of young people in hospital and intensive care had increased and that three more people had died over the past day — bringing the toll to 1,489.
Of the 328 people currently in hospital with COVID-19, 62 are cases of variants of concern — 42 with the variant first identified in the U.K. (B.1.1.7) and 20 with the variant first identified in Brazil (P.1). These variants are more contagious, with P.1. leading to worse symptoms in young people than the original COVID-19.
Henry said she expected the most common variant in B.C. (B.1.1.7) would account for around 60 per cent of all cases within a month — similar to what Ontario was experiencing now.
B.C. Teachers Federation president Teri Mooring said the union wanted Henry to create a system that would allow schools within hard-hit districts (like Surrey Schools) to move to online learning or a hybrid model if there were high instances of community transmission and school exposure notifications.
For example, the Washington State Department of Health guidance on school openings is set by the number of COVID-19 cases per 100,000 over the previous 14 days. So if a school district reaches the set mark then it stops in-class learning.
“We don’t have any education-based data on what’s actually happening in the schools,” Mooring said. “All we are getting is that schools are safe and there’s a low transmission rate. There is no information to back it up, and it’s available because it’s being used to say that schools are safe in the first place.”
Mooring said she wanted details on where school transmission had occurred and how many students and staff had contracted the disease at school.
Rani Senghera, spokeswoman for the Surrey District Parent Advisory Council, said that some parents were keeping their kids home because of all the school exposures being reported in the Surrey Schools district.
Senghera said some parents had also called for rules to allow schools to be closed on an individual basis if they were in a COVID-19 hot spot.
“Some parents feel that if the exposures keep happening and schools are no longer safe then they would like schools to be closed for a bit to get things under control,” she said. “This doesn’t have to be for all schools, look at the schools on individual bases or the hot spots.”
So far, 825,382 people in B.C. have received a vaccine, including 87,474 who have received the required second dose.
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