Hospitalized teacher from shuttered, COVID-stricken Surrey school speaks out

Click to play video 'Surrey music teacher speaks out about battle with COVID-19' Surrey music teacher speaks out about battle with COVID-19
Surrey music teacher speaks out about battle with COVID-19 – Nov 26, 2020

The Surrey, B.C., music teacher who was hospitalized with COVID-19 is back home, and sharing her story.

Darlene Lourenco teaches at Cambridge Elementary, the Surrey school that was closed for two weeks amid an outbreak of the virus.

She spent two weeks in hospital, more than half of it in the intensive care unit.

Click to play video 'Surrey elementary school teacher in hospital with COVID-19' Surrey elementary school teacher in hospital with COVID-19
Surrey elementary school teacher in hospital with COVID-19 – Nov 15, 2020

“I wasn’t on a ventilator but I was on ever-increasing oxygen,” she told Global News.

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“It’s not just a flu. It is a big deal.”

Read more: Community rallies behind Surrey music teacher battling COVID-19 in ICU

Lourenco said she has several underlying conditions, including asthma, and didn’t return to work in June due to concerns about the virus.

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She said she raised questions and concerns about the back-to-school plan in the fall, but returned to work anyway.

She is now certain she contracted the virus while on the job, and is still struggling with concerns about going back.

“I’m still not up to par. I’ve tried to sing a notes but nothing comes out, the strength of my lungs is compromised, so I will take some time and think about whether I feel safe to come back,” she said.

“I’ve been told that there’s no guarantee I have any kind of immunity whatsoever. If I was immune, I would be back as soon as I could, because I love my Cambridge children and my school.”

Click to play video 'Why no mask mandate in B.C. schools?' Why no mask mandate in B.C. schools?
Why no mask mandate in B.C. schools? – Nov 21, 2020

As a music teacher, Lourenco was not assigned to a learning cohort.

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Instead, she taught nine classes per day — and estimates about 500 kids came through her class every week.

Despite several exposures in the school in the weeks leading up to the school shutting down, she was never directly notified, nor were her teaching duties modified, she said.

“I was teaching as normal, with the precautions we have in place — but nothing extra, no extra knowledge that I was actually in the presence of children that were carrying something dangerous with them.”

Instruction was in a portable with no sink or running water, she added.

Read more: COVID-19-stricken B.C. school ‘should have been closed a week ago,’ say parents

Lourenco believes elementary school children should be directed to wear masks at school, another layer of protection she said will make everyone safer.

Masks are only mandatory for older children, and only in common spaces such as hallways under B.C.’s back-to-school plan.

The province’s teacher’s union has begun appealing directly to parents to create a “culture of mask wearing” among their children.

In the meantime, Lourenco wants to thank the staff at Surrey Memorial Hospital, who she said went above and beyond in caring for her.

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“I see them. I see their struggles. I see what it’s like to wear all that protection when they come in or out of a room,” she said.

“I had some golden angels that cared for me and I’m truly grateful for the care I received.”