B.C. teachers pushing for more transparency, 'relieved' data on COVID-19 at schools will be shared after all
The BC Teachers’ Federation says it’s pleased the province is reversing course on its new COVID-19 exposure policy in schools.
Earlier this month, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry had announced that exposure letters would only be sent home during clusters or outbreaks.
The new protocol received major pushback from parents and teachers during the first two weeks of classes, and on Tuesday, Henry revealed she’s had a change of heart.
“Initially it was my understanding that there was a level of anxiety from the way that we had given broad school notifications last year,” explained Henry during a weekly update.
“I hear from educators, and our teams have recognized that parents need an authoritative source to go to have an understanding of what's happening at their children's schools,” she added.
The BCTF says more transparency is needed to put the school community at ease.
“The decision not to share the data was based on an assumption that was faulty. And so I'm very relieved to hear that there will be data shared,” said Teri Mooring, the president of the BCTF.
Henry says a new system will be in place by the end of the week.
“I have asked our team to get together right now to make sure that we can notify schools in a timely, less intrusive and more sustainable way. And that parents will have access to that information rapidly,” said the provincial health officer.
Mooring said she hopes the new protocol will be more thorough and timely.
“The exposure notifications last year were really a rough measure of what was going on. The (B.C. Centre for Disease Control) can certainly supply much more meaningful data than they did last year even. And we see that in other jurisdictions. So we know it's possible,” Mooring told CTV News.
She says a lack of information is unacceptable.
“It created this untenable environment where parents didn't know what was going on. They heard things in passing, similarly with teachers. It's just not the way that we should be getting information in a free democratic society,” argued Mooring.
The BCTF would like the new exposure notifications to include the number of cases among staff and students and if they’re epidemiologically linked.
“We also have some issues with the definition of cluster and the definition of outbreak. Because right now, there can be multiple cases in a classroom of COVID-19. And it's not deemed a cluster,” said Mooring.
The creator of the crowdsourced BC School COVID Tracker Facebook page said she’s cautiously optimistic about the re-implementation of a notification system, but echoes concerns about how much detail it will include.
She says her team will continue sharing information until the province agrees to do so in a timely manner.
“I just think it's outrageous that it had to come to this, that people had to share the information themselves, that we weren't getting good enough quality information from public officials,” said Mooring.
She praised the work of the people running the volunteer-based website, and called on the province to implement its own verified central system.
“It's a terrible position to be in, to think that you need to be tracking these exposures yourself, because you can't count on the public officials to do so.”
The BC School COVID Tracker claims there have been at least 180 exposure events so far this year, the majority of which have been in elementary schools.
There is currently no approved vaccine for children under the age of 12 in Canada.
Henry says she’s hopeful that Health Canada will approve Pfizer’s new vaccine for children aged six to 11 soon.