Students at the first secondary school in the South Okanagan to be notified of a COVID-19 exposure say it’s a wake-up call, as some classmates have become complacent in following on-site safety protocols.
On Tuesday night, families of approximately 500 students in Grades 9 through 12 at Princess Margaret Secondary School were informed that a member of the school community had tested positive for the virus.
The individual was potentially infectious at school on Nov. 26 and 27.
The test-positive person, who has not been identified as a student, teacher, or administrator, is at home, self-isolating, and contact tracing is underway.
Secondary students who spoke to Global News on Wednesday said the notification came as a surprise.
“It was quite shocking, considering we had gone so long without it and we were all feeling pretty safe,” said Grade 10 student Bronte Lauze.
“It was a little weird because I didn’t think it would ever affect Penticton because we’re a little small town,” said another student.
Others said some of their peers have become complacent when it comes to following COVID-19 safety measures at school.
“When they’re coming into the school, they are not wearing their masks and they are not washing hands and hand sanitizing and doing the things they should be,” said Grade 12 student Andrew Howells. “They’re just going rogue.
“Even though we are in the cohorts, there is still a lot of contact with other students, so it has a chance to spread pretty rapidly.”
Grade 12 student Caz Markus-Pawliuk said some of his classmates are not sticking to their cohorts.
“At the beginning, it was a good idea, like the cohort system and stuff. But in reality, everyone is just hanging out with everyone in the parking lot and it doesn’t really do a whole lot,” he said.
“It was a little crazy to me when they brought back the ban where you can only socialize with people in your household, that somehow schools stayed open, where here you have like 500-something kids,” Markus-Pawliuk added.
Kevin Epp, president of the Okanagan Skaha Teachers’ Union, also raised concerns about an approximate eight-hour delay between the time when the test-positive person began alerting friends and family, and when the district’s official letter was issued.
“It’s completely possible that folks that would’ve received a notification that they had been exposed, or they are a close contact, were carrying about their regular daily lives,” Epp said. “That uncertainty is what fuels the anxiety.”
Dr. Albert de Villiers, Interior Health’s chief medical health officer, says technology is helping alert positive patients quicker, but that it’s also giving more time for grassroots contact tracing to occur, as infected people begin to notify family and friends.
“The perceived lag sometimes comes in because people can now sign up for the text message service, so they can get the result at the same time we get it. And if they start sharing with other people in the community, other people might know before we have had a chance to call them,” de Villiers said.
Todd Manuel, superintendent of School District 67, said the school exposure is a reminder that the virus is not contained to a geographical boundary.
Penticton had gone three months without a school exposure while cases skyrocketed in the Central Okanagan school district.
“It’s just a reminder to us all to continue to be vigilant in our layers of protection and follow the social distancing measures and all of the safety protocols that we’ve been told to follow,” Manuel said.
“While we are seeing cases in schools, transmission is not happening within the schools themselves, thanks to the controlled environments and precautions that are in place,” Interior Health said in a statement.
“This shows us the plan is working and the majority of students continue to get the education they need in a safe environment.”
Giant’s Head elementary in Summerland was notified of a school exposure on Monday.
There have been no exposures within the Okanagan Similkameen school district.
Sixty-six new cases were recorded in the Interior Health region over the past 24 hours. Five hundred and 70 cases are active and in isolation. Eighteen people are in the hospital, but there is no one in intensive care.
A full list of school exposures within the Interior Health Authority can be found here.