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Fraser Health beefing up school COVID-19 exposure notification protocol

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Schools in the Fraser Health region are changing the way parents will be notified of COVID-19 exposures.

The new protocol will see the districts send out three different types of notification letters.

Under the former protocol, a single letter was sent out to all families of a school if there was a possible exposure on the property.

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Now, families will be directly notified if their child was in a class that had a COVID-positive student attend while they were in their infectious period.

All other families at the school will get a letter saying there was an exposure at the school, but their child was not exposed.

A third type of letter will go out if there was an exposure at the school, but it is not attached to a specific learning cohort.

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This letter, for example, would go out if an administrator, a janitor or an educational assistant that was in multiple classrooms tested positive.

Read more: After latest outbreak, Surrey teachers call for mandatory masks, smaller classes

“When these letters are sent, contact tracing is still underway with the positive case,” Surrey School District superintendent Jordan Tinney said in a statement.

“As soon as contact tracing is completed, Health will issue a school bulletin. This is to let the school community know all their work with the associated positive case is complete.”

Surrey Teachers Association vice-president Julia MacRae said there were valid questions around privacy underpinning the older model.

But the new system is an improvement, she said.

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“The first question after people have been notified so far of an exposure in their school is, ‘Was I exposed? Who is it?'” she said.

“It’s good to know if you’ve been exposed in your cohorts so you can monitor yourself and maybe limit your interactions … and you don’t go visit your mother in the nursing home.”

MacRae said in addition to being non-specific, the old notification letters would often come too late to make a difference, sometimes on the 13th day of a 14-day period.

The notification change, however, won’t stop the association’s advocacy for broader changes to the back-to-school plan, including reducing classroom density and mandatory masks in the classroom.

“The notifications are better, but any notification is old news, any notification is something in the past,” MacRae said.

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“Our prevention asks are about planning not to be exposed.”

READ MORE: Fraser Health declares COVID-19 outbreak at Newton Elementary School in Surrey

Provincial health officials have maintained that despite a number of exposures in schools, incidents of transmission have been rare.

Two Surrey schools have been closed due to outbreaks within the last month.

As of the province’s most recent modelling update in November, 175 of 261 exposure events (67 per cent) were in the Fraser Health region.

About 24 per cent were in the Vancouver Coastal Health region.

Global News has inquired whether the Vancouver School Board is looking at a similar notification change.