B.C. to only notify families of COVID school exposures when attendance drops

Click to play video: 'B.C. schools set to resume Monday with enhanced COVID-19 measures'
B.C. schools set to resume Monday with enhanced COVID-19 measures
Despite concerns about the rapid rise of the omicron variant, B.C. kids will be returning to in-person learning in their classrooms on Monday under a series of new notification and testing protocols. Richard Zussman reports – Jan 7, 2022

As B.C. students head back to the classroom Monday, the province is changing the way COVID cases in schools are reported to families, as more cases are expected amid the highly contagious Omicron variant.

In a news conference Friday, Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside said the province will no longer provide individual case information to families, and that schools will instead report to the province if attendance drops below “typical rates.”

Click to play video: 'B.C. Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside outlines how parents will be notified about COVID-19 exposures'
B.C. Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside outlines how parents will be notified about COVID-19 exposures

If that happens, she said, it could trigger the distribution of rapid tests and a COVID safety plan implementation.

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“We need a proxy to understand what’s happening in schools,” Whiteside added. “When (attendance) reaches a certain point that will be a measure to know something is happening in a classroom or across a school.”

When a school has notified public health that there is a drop in attendance, that is when a notice will also go out to the school community, Whiteside explained.

If attendance drops 10 per cent below the average for the time of year, it will trigger a notification for most schools. This would be in a situation where daily attendance is 80 per cent on a date where historically it is 90 per cent.

Click to play video: 'COVID-19: At what point will a B.C. school close for functional reasons?'
COVID-19: At what point will a B.C. school close for functional reasons?

As for functional closures, it will depend on each school and school district. But Whiteside noted the Surrey School District, B.C.’s largest, will struggle to operate school if more than 25 per cent of staff are missing from a given school.

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Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Friday that it’s important to keep schools and daycares open and notifications about any exposure in schools, such as measles or other respiratory illnesses, including COVID, will continue.

“We are always going to notify parents of outbreaks, that has not changed,” Henry said.

“What we are no longer able to do is those individual case exposures that were being notified over the past couple of months and years because of the way this is transmitting so rapidly. We are no longer doing individual case and contact tracing in the community because of the change in parameters we’re seeing with Omicron.”

She implemented a provincial health order requiring all industries and businesses to have a COVID safety plan in place, including measures like barriers and reducing crowding and mixing of staff. This does not apply to schools or daycare centres.

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“It’s important to keep schools opening and functioning for all children,” Henry said.

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She added it will be important for schools to have safety plans in place and “we will have to adapt to changes as things arise.”

Click to play video: 'Schools prepare for the return to in-person learning as Omicron cases spike'
Schools prepare for the return to in-person learning as Omicron cases spike
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Starting next week rapid tests will be sent to schools for symptomatic school staff, Henry added. Then the province hopes to expand at-home tests for symptomatic kids.

Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside said the government understands parents and teachers are concerned about the return to school amid the surge in COVID-19 cases driven by the Omicron variant.

She said school districts have been working with staff to ensure there are “enhanced safety measures” in schools and that there are plans in place in case the school needs to switch to online learning.

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“In our school system, our schools have been providing three-layer quality disposable masks since the beginning of the pandemic. We’re going to continue to do that,” she said.

“We’ve been in touch with suppliers and working with districts to make sure those supplies are robust and Monday will very much look like a review of what is proper mask-wearing, ensuring they have the proper masks that they need as well as a review of all the additional safety measures that have been brought back into our schools.”

Click to play video: 'B.C. teachers concerned about back to school safety'
B.C. teachers concerned about back to school safety

Whiteside said students and teachers will see measures implemented in schools that were not there last fall to “ensure the school environment is safe.”

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She said how parents are notified about a school exposure will look different as well due to the highly contagious Omicron variant.

Whiteside added plans are in place to make sure if a school does need to close and move to online learning, that decision can be made “quickly.”

She said assemblies will be virtual and parents should send children to school with a three-layer mask but they will be available at schools if needed.

In a statement, the Ministry of Health told Global News that isolation rules are the same for children and adults.

If a fully vaccinated child has tested positive for COVID or has COVID symptoms they should stay in isolation for five days from the onset of symptoms or until they feel better.

Click to play video: '‘Inevitable’ that BC back to class will be online'
‘Inevitable’ that BC back to class will be online

For example, a child with one vaccine dose will be required to stay home 10 days. But if they continue to feel sick past that point, they can only return when the symptoms are gone.

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For children with two doses, they must stay away as long as they are sick as well. If the symptoms go away quickly, they can return 5 days after first symptoms. But if they have symptoms, for example, for eight days they can return on the ninth day.

Unvaccinated children are required to isolate for ten days from the onset of symptoms or until they feel better, which ever is longer.

If a person is unsure if they are well enough to attend school, they should call 8-1-1 or their health care provider for guidance.

“It is important to note that people still need to be mindful to follow health and safety precautions following their self-isolation,” the statement reads.

“Along with the importance of mask wearing, other precautions such as sticking to the same social circles and using layers of protection such as handwashing and personal hygiene practices, proper ventilation, and staying home when we are not feeling well are all things that people need to do to reduce the risk of spread and transmission of COVID-19.”

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