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Vancouver Coastal Health chief defends stance on not revealing all COVID-19 school exposures

Click to play video 'Vancouver Coastal Health defends position on disclosing COVID-19 cases in schools' Vancouver Coastal Health defends position on disclosing COVID-19 cases in schools
Vancouver Coastal Health defends position on disclosing COVID-19 cases in schools – Sep 24, 2020

Vancouver Coastal Health continues to defend its position on reporting COVID-19 exposures in the region’s schools.

Speaking to 980 CKNW’s Simi Sara Thursday morning, chief medical health officer Dr. Patricia Daly said staff will notify the public of exposures when necessary, adding that privacy must be maintained because of the stigma around individuals who contract the coronavirus.

“The expectation is that health authorities and medical health officers will assess cases in school and post as appropriate and that’s exactly what we’re doing,” she said.

“If people think they’re going to be outed or that people will find out they have COVID-19, they may not go for testing.”

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Staff also don’t want to unnecessarily create anxiety in parents if their children are not at risk, Daly said.

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“Certainly, anyone directly exposed as a contact needs to be notified, but we also need to reassure all parents that the schools are safe and we hope that they will continue to send their children to school with that confidence.”

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Former Vancouver School Board trustee Patti Bacchus said Coastal Health should list exposures at all schools, just as other health authorities do, and that the lack of transparency leads to fear and rumour-mongering.

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“Anytime you see public officials withholding information and refusing to disclose, it creates suspicion and leads to a lack of trust and speculation,” she said.

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“My inboxes are full of people sending me rumours that they’ve heard and copies of screenshots of letters. That’s just not the way to be handling information in a public health crisis, but it’s what people will do if the public health officials fail to give them the information they would like to see in order to make their own decisions about whether it’s safe to be sending their kids to school.”

Read more: B.C.’s daily health checklist for children going to school shortens to just 7 symptoms

Later Thursday afternoon, the health authority issued a statement reaffirming its procedure.

The protocols were put in the spotlight earlier this week when the West Vancouver Teachers’ Association reported that a teacher had tested positive for the coronavirus after officials failed to tell her that a COVID-19 exposure at her school was within her specific cohort. The Sentinel Secondary teacher has filed a complaint with WorkSafeBC.

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The union pointed out that the exposure notification was not posted on the Vancouver Coastal Health website until days after the school sent out its notification.

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When asked about the delay, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said earlier this week that the health authority wanted to notify the school community first, before the public.

Read more: Coronavirus: List of B.C. school exposures

As for Daly, she told 980 CKNW that she won’t comment on specific cases due to privacy concerns, and said that identifying close contacts in a school is no different than any other investigation.

“We’ve been following up thousands of cases in this province since January and we know that those at risk are close contacts. Most transmission occurs, for example, in household settings.”

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The emphasis needs to be on contact tracing rather than public notifications, she added.

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“The notification on the webpage does not replace the direct notice notification of any close contacts of patients, whether they’re in a school or elsewhere, and that’s occurring.”

As of 3 p.m. on Tuesday, two schools were listed on the health authority’s exposure page: Sentinel Secondary in West Vancouver and Xpey’ Elementary in Vancouver

— With files from Janet Brown and Grace Ke

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