B.C. to resume sharing school exposure notifications online, as parent-created text alert site launched
B.C. will once again be sharing information about possible COVID-19 exposures at schools online.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced health authorities will post the information on their individual sites, similar to last year, and those links will also be grouped in one place on the B.C. Centre for Disease Control website.
The province said the name of the school and dates of exposure will be posted if a student or staff member attended school while infectious, and there is an increased risk of transmission to the groups they were with.
The move is a change in direction from earlier in the school year, when Henry said there would not be wider notifications for a single exposure, and only people who were at risk would be notified, because they had heard the letters were “anxiety-provoking.” On Sept. 21, Henry said they recognized that parents need an “authoritative source” for information, and the new system would be “less intrusive and more sustainable."
According to the province, people who are at increased risk due to an school exposure will still be notified directly.
Henry noted there may still be a delay when it comes to public health being notified about a positive lab test.
“We know that these postings will lag behind certain parent postings,” she said. “Them sharing that information is something that is helpful to some communities, but what we will have is an authoritative source where people can go to find out if there has been exposure events at their school.”
The news comes the same day a website that aims to track COVID-19 school exposures and deliver related text alerts was launched by a New Westminster, B.C., parent and software engineer.
Gabriel Bauman created the Exposure Watch site, which draws on information collected by another citizen initiative, the BC School COVID Tracker Facebook page, as well as UBC COVID Tracker.
“The goal is mostly to take what little information we have about school exposures, mostly gleaned by parents and people at the BC School COVID tracker, and just make that useful,” he said. “I don't see this site that I built going away anytime soon, because the government has shown quite clearly that they’re going to pick and choose which information they make public or that they emphasize. I’ll happily use the government’s information as a source for this site like any other source.”
The site lets people search for schools by name to see information on exposures, and also provides a text alert service when there are notifications for a particular school, as well as a reporting line.
“What we’re doing is giving each school a page, and that page has a status on it,” Bauman said. “If there’s been an exposure in the last two weeks, the status is red. If there’s been in the last four, status is yellow, nothing in the last four, status is green.”
He said he will also be making available historical exposure information for each school.
“There’s this odd idea that parents are terribly anxious people who can’t handle the truth about what’s happening in schools,” he said. “What gives me anxiety is not knowing what the authorities know is going on at the school. This is a huge problem.”
Bauman intends to broaden the service, and add “different and more data sources” over time.
“I’m looking to make it so that businesses can add themselves,” he said. “Anyone who’s interested in knowing about exposures at a location should be able to find out about it, and that’s what we’re aiming to do.”
He added there has already been a good response.
“We’re seeing something like two searches per second right now,” he said. “I think in a matter of hours, we had four or five hundred unique users and that’s just continuing to build this morning.”
CTV Vancouver recently interviewed Bauman regarding an attempt to fundraise for HEPA filter units in local classrooms. The school district said it did not endorse the effort and would not accept the units, as they were “not required” among other reasons.
BC Teachers; Federation president Teri Mooring said they’re glad the possible school exposures notifications will now be reported by the province, but are still “disappointed it’s not more meaningful than that."
Mooring also expressed concern about equal access to information if notices aren’t being sent home.
“This is really incumbent upon families to be consistently and continuously checking the websites,” she said. “And I’m not sure the websites themselves from the health authorities have that kind of capacity.”
The province is also reminding families to conduct daily health checks and keep their children home from school if they’re unwell.