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‘The system isn’t working,’ says B.C. mom of 9-day COVID-19 school exposure notification delay

Click to play video: 'B.C. mom concerned over 9-day COVID-19 school exposure notification delay' B.C. mom concerned over 9-day COVID-19 school exposure notification delay
A B.C. mother is speaking out about delays in COVID-19 notification at schools after her daughter's class was left waiting nine days to be told of exposures. Kamil Karamali reports – Oct 10, 2021

A B.C. mother is speaking out about delays in COVID-19 notification at schools after her daughter’s class was left waiting nine days to be told of exposures.

The exposures happened between Sept. 22 and Sept. 24 at Fairview Elementary in Maple Ridge, but parents didn’t get a notification until Oct. 1.

Read more: Several B.C. PACs call for enhanced COVID-19 safety measures in schools

The mother, who Global News is not identifying because it could affect her employment, believes her daughter contracted COVID-19 in that time, potentially at school, and may have passed it on to family members at a dinner on Saturday, Sept. 25.

“Had I been given information about possible exposure in the classroom, we would not have attended a family dinner with fully vaccinated adults prior to her having symptoms,” she said.

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“From that dinner, four adults were infected with COVID. The system isn’t working.”

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The daughter began showing symptoms Sunday and got a positive test on Monday, at which point the mother informed the school.

But it was not until Friday afternoon, nine days after the initial exposure and five days after the mother reported her daughter’s positive test, that parents received a letter from the school district informing them of exposures and telling them to self-monitor.

The Maple Ridge School District confirmed two COVID-19 clusters at Fairview Elementary and said it had implemented enhanced safety measures.

The district immediately notifies public health when a parent reports a positive test, district spokesperson Irena Pochop told Global News.

Read more: Several B.C. PACs call for enhanced COVID-19 safety measures in schools

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“The responsibility of determining close contacts and next steps rests with staff at Fraser Health, who work closely with the school principal to make this determination,” she said.

“Not all positive cases result in school exposures, and only public health experts can determine — based on their investigation — when an exposure has occurred.”

Fraser Health said it was conducting “rigorous” contact tracing in all reported school exposures, while working to protect individuals’ privacy.

“Fraser Health works closely with schools throughout the contact tracing process, and when a child tests positive for COVID-19, we begin this process right away, including directly contacting all close contacts of a positive case who may have been exposed,” spokesperson Larisa Saunders said in an email.

“If your child has been exposed and is considered a close contact, you will hear from Fraser Health’s Public Health team with instructions about what to do.”

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But Elizabete Costa, a parent and volunteer with the BC Safe Schools Coalition, said the notification process is broken to the point of being useless.

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“It does not work at all. By the time parents get the information that children are getting sick, parents are getting sick, grandparents are getting sick. Everyone is getting COVID because they don’t get timely information,” she said.

“It does not matter if there has been transmission at the school or not. The information that’s given to the parents is for them to be able to make their own assessments and their own decisions.”

When parents do get information, she said it is woefully inadequate and doesn’t include how many students were sick or what grade or class they were in.

Read more: New B.C. modelling data show spike in COVID-19 cases among children in some health regions

Costa said the information gap has forced parents to turn to grassroots notification either through parent groups or social media platforms like the BC School Covid Tracker, which crowdsources school exposures.

“If we wait for public health, it can be five to 10 days for everyone to be aware — by then, an asymptomatic or symptomatic child has brought it home to vulnerable people, pregnant mothers, newborns, the grandmother who is going through cancer treatments,” she said.

“This is not acceptable. We cannot have the secrecy or misinformation for five to 10 days when it involves a disease that can spread within two days.”

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British Columbia faced heavy criticism from parents early in the school year for not providing notifications about school exposures — a move it said was meant to ease “anxiety.” The province reversed course on that position last month.

Read more: COVID-19: Vaccine registration open for B.C. kids 5+ but no timeline on approval

The number of COVID-19 cases among younger children, who represent about half of the remaining unvaccinated people in B.C., has been rising steadily since September.

Last week, the independent BC COVID Modelling Group released data showing dramatic spikes among school-age children in the Fraser Health, Interior Health and Island Health regions.

The group said those children could lead to greater rates of community spread until they can be vaccinated.

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None of the existing vaccines have been approved for children under the age of 12, however, parents in B.C. can register their kids in anticipation of the vaccines becoming available.

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