COVID-19: West Kelowna school officials hopeful in-class hiatus will break rise in cases

Mar Jok Elementary in West Kelowna has gone to remote learning after a COVID-19 outbreak. Courtesy: SD23

Wednesday is the last day of in-class learning at Mar Jok Elementary School in West Kelowna.

On Tuesday, roughly 470 students got 24 hours notice that their classes would transition back to remote learning, as Interior Health put into place a circuit breaker aimed at getting the upper hand on an ongoing rise in COVID-19 cases.

Rising case counts had been an issue for weeks, with classes facing low attendance as a growing number of kids are either catching COVID-19 or are close contacts of someone who has.

Read more: West Kelowna case counts rise while rest of Central Okanagan under control

Superintendent of Central Okanagan public schools Kevin Kaardal said he’s hopeful that’s all that will be needed and classes will resume in a matter of days.

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“There will be monitoring, and it could get extended,” Kaardal said. “We hope not. We hope we are back on the Monday… and Interior Health tells us that’s enough to end the cycle.“

That said, there have been a lot of cases.

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“I think that (Interior Health) is monitoring the west side very closely,” he said. “We have a number of exposures in that community and a number of cases in that community.”

The president of the Central Okanagan Teachers Association said Tuesday she is also aware of mounting COVID-19 cases in West Kelowna and Peachland, though the worst by far was Mar Jok. So much so, she said, that the closure should have happened earlier.

“In the case of Mar Jok, this is a long time overdue as far as we’re concerned,” she said. “We are relieved that the school will be going remote but we want kids in schools … nobody wants to get this state.”

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Case numbers for the West Kelowna and Peachland, however, are currently less than ideal.

The BC Centre for Disease Control put out a map showing the average daily case rate of new cases per 100,000 population, by local health area, from Nov. 2 to Nov. 8. It illustrates case frequency in shades of purple, and highlighted in the darkest hue is rural Central Okanagan, which encompasses Peachland and Joe Rich. That area is seeing, on average, 24 new cases a day, which puts it in a high-frequency category of 20 or more cases per 100,000 population.

Read more: Thousands of unvaccinated health workers remain in B.C., including 906 nurses, 86 paramedics

West Kelowna isn’t doing much better with 19 new cases a day. In contrast, downtown Kelowna is seeing an average of 12 new cases, Glenmore is seeing seven, Okanagan Mission is seeing nine, and Rutland and Lake Country are seeing roughly 10 a day.

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The cases in schools are a high priority for Interior Health, an official said in an email, responding to concerns that cases are going unreported in classrooms until days after a positive case comes in.

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“Interior Health prioritizes schools for contact tracing and public health will contact all high-risk contacts directly which includes people who attend schools. Interior Health will work with the school district to contact anyone who has been potentially exposed at school,” Interior Health said.

“When people test positive they are notified at the same time public health is and many people may choose to notify their contacts that they have tested positive. Contact tracing is a collaborative effort and we appreciate the assistance of people who test positive to notify their household and social contacts.”

West Kelowna isn’t the only school in the Interior Health region facing a school closure.  Salmon Arm and Vernon have also seen COVID-19 related school closures.


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