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Renewed calls for greater data transparency as COVID-19 school exposures soar in Kelowna, B.C.

Click to play video: 'COVID-19: Central Okanagan school exposures rise after spring break' COVID-19: Central Okanagan school exposures rise after spring break
WATCH: Central Okanagan public schools seem to be experiencing the after effects of spring break. More than a quarter of schools in the district saw possible COVID-19 exposures in the first week back – Apr 6, 2021

With highly-transmissible variants circulating in B.C. and a surge in COVID-19 exposures at Kelowna, B.C., schools, teachers and parents are renewing calls for greater transparency of infection data related to schools.

Susan Bauhart, president of the Central Okanagan Teachers’ Association, is calling on the provincial government to release specific case counts at schools with exposures, as well as the number of students and staff in isolation.

Read more: Ontario students move to virtual learning indefinitely amid record-high COVID-19 cases

“I’ve heard from parents across the district, I’ve heard from teachers asking me questions. I have been pushing for more transparency of data so that people would know what the actual situations are like in the schools,” Bauhart told Global News on Monday.

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Parents concerned about classroom safety – Apr 7, 2021

Bauhart said health officials have been hesitant to release specific school data due to privacy concerns, but she believes privacy issues could be mitigated.

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“I know there are privacy issues, there is a stigma attached if names were to be released, but that was never the intent of asking for the data, the data can be given in a general way and it allows people to make informed decisions,” she said.

Read more: Log boom: B.C. school board builds 20 outdoor classrooms amid COVID-19 pandemic

Bauhart called the emergence of the highly-transmissible variants circulating in the community a “game-changer.”

“The variants have been a game-changer in terms of COVID in our schools. The fear of the unknown is taking hold. I’m not trying to propagate fear — there are safety plans in our schools, there are protocols that are being followed. The variants, though, are the things that have changed.”

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There are 16 Kelowna-area public and independent schools listed on Interior Health’s website with potential exposure events since students returned from spring break.

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The Okanagan’s largest school, Kelowna Secondary, has exposure dates listed as Mar. 29, 30, and April 6.

Read more: B.C. parents to protest school COVID-19 safety measures at health authorities’ offices on Monday

KSS parents who contacted Global News expressed concern that COVID-19 transmission could be more widespread at the school, but only two exposure notices have been sent out to parents.

“Shouldn’t the parents be made aware of every positive case involving school-aged children? There are large numbers of students isolating and getting tested,” said one parent, who asked to remain anonymous.

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B.C. government resists calls for more restrictions as COVID variants grow across province – Apr 6, 2021

“A member of the École Kelowna Secondary school community has tested positive for COVID-19. They are self-isolating at home with support from local public health teams. To ensure personal privacy rights are maintained, we will not be providing additional details,” said the latest notice, issued April 5, by superintendent Kevin Kaardal.

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Data related to COVID-19 in the Interior Health region is available on the BC Centre for Disease Control’s COVID-19 dashboard. 

It shows there are 833 active cases of COVID-19 across the B.C. Interior, and 23 people are currently hospitalized.

Global News is tracking active school exposures across B.C. here.

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