Advertisement

COVID-19 complacency rampant at first high school in South Okanagan to have exposure, students say

Click to play video 'COVID-19 complacency rampant at first high school in South Okanagan to have exposure, students say' COVID-19 complacency rampant at first high school in South Okanagan to have exposure, students say
Penticton has recorded its first COVID-19 school exposure, and students say it’s a wake-up call to curb complacency. Shelby Thom reports. – Dec 2, 2020

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.

Read more: Coronavirus spreads among Kelowna school population, 4 more exposures announced

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.

Story continues below advertisement

“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.

Students congregate outside Princess Margaret Secondary School over the lunch hour on Wednesday. Some were not physically distant or wearing masks. Global News

“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.

Click to play video '“They are not really addressing the situation at KSS as seriously as it is,” parents grow increasingly concerned as more COVID cases are announced at Kelowna Secondary School.' “They are not really addressing the situation at KSS as seriously as it is,” parents grow increasingly concerned as more COVID cases are announced at Kelowna Secondary School.
“They are not really addressing the situation at KSS as seriously as it is,” parents grow increasingly concerned as more COVID cases are announced at Kelowna Secondary School – Nov 16, 2020

“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.

Story continues below advertisement

“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.”

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

Grade 12 student Caz Markus-Pawliuk said some of his classmates are not sticking to their cohorts.

[ Sign up for our Health IQ newsletter for the latest coronavirus updates ]

“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.

Click to play video 'Central Okanagan Teacher’s Association president concerned over rising exposure cases in local schools' Central Okanagan Teacher’s Association president concerned over rising exposure cases in local schools
Central Okanagan Teacher’s Association president concerned over rising exposure cases in local schools – Nov 12, 2020

“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.

Story continues below advertisement

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.

Read more: Okanagan teachers association calls for smaller classes after district records first school exposure

“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.

Click to play video 'Kelowna father argues it’s wrong for homeschooled children to risk losing their spots in schools during pandemic' Kelowna father argues it’s wrong for homeschooled children to risk losing their spots in schools during pandemic
Kelowna father argues it’s wrong for homeschooled children to risk losing their spots in schools during pandemic – Nov 11, 2020

“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.

Story continues below advertisement

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.

Read more: B.C.’s health minister ‘actively considering’ extending students’ annual winter break

“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.

Story continues below advertisement

A full list of school exposures within the Interior Health Authority can be found here.