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New Brunswick education department shifts COVID-19 policy, no longer contact tracing

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The New Brunswick Department of Education and Early Childhood Development says families will now have to report their child’s positive COVID-19 test results amid rising case counts in the province.

In an emailed statement earlier this week, a department spokesperson told Global News “families are now required to report cases to their school as part of notifying their close contacts as part of Public Health’s updated testing and isolation measures.”

It’s something mother of three, Jenna Morton, said she understands. However, she said she feels like ambiguity of the policy makes her worried.

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“I’m still not 100 per cent clear based on the email from the district what to expect,” she said in an interview Thursday. “Until we’re fully back in school, I’m not sure how it’s going to play out.”

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Families, she said, may need to take on more responsibility, but it’s about proper communication.

“It’s in the community,” she said. “I think we’re coming to a point in this where we do have to take more ownership over ourselves in terms of how we’re going to share the information on positive cases?”

The change, though, is a shift in policy, and a departure from the Healthy and Safe Schools guidelines given out in the fall.

The document indicates the regional chief medical officer of health would notify the department per the communication protocol of confirmed COVID-19 cases, and that schools, principals and the districts would work with the department’s COVID-19 team to identify close contacts.

It changed though, according to a letter sent to parents by the Anglophone East School District, on Jan. 17.

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Stephanie Patterson, a spokesperson for the district, confirmed the changes were made across all districts.

The letter said, “please note that Public Health will not be confirming positive cases as they (have) in the past, nor will they be doing contact tracing for school related cases.”

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The Department of Education confirmed families would be required to notify school principals as part of contacting their close contacts if their child tests positive. It declined a request for an interview with Education Minister Dominic Cardy.

The Department of Health said in an email statement that, “a fundamental transition in New Brunswick’s approach to dealing with COVID-19 is necessary to mitigate the risk of transmission, preserve human resources, protect critical infrastructure, and protect our health-care system.”

It said while “this group has been prioritized regularly in our approach to managing COVID-19 given the need to ensure this population is protected, and supported, throughout the duration of the pandemic,” it technically is not considered a vulnerable population.

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“Children and youth do not have the same level of risk of hospitalization as vulnerable sector individuals,” said department spokesperson Bruce Macfarlane.

Macfarlane said getting vaccinated is the best defense for children who are eligible.

“Not only will getting your kids vaccinated protect them from COVID-19 infection, it will also help us get back to the things we love sooner like school, sports and extracurricular activities,” he said in an email.

“New Brunswick has more than 30,000 COVID-19 vaccine appointments available for all eligible age groups this month and more are being added as the province moves to bolster New Brunswickers’ ability to fight off Omicron.”

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