Dozens sign open letter urging 'safe return to school' amid respiratory illness concerns
With students returning to B.C. classrooms in four weeks, an open letter to the province is outlining five things the signatories say must be addressed to ensure "a safe return to school."
The letter is addressed to Premier David Eby, Health Minister Adrian Dix, Education Minister Rachna Singh and to all parents in the province.
Protect Our Province BC – an advocacy group of physicians, nurses, health scientists, health policy specialists and community members – published the letter with 54 signatures on Tuesday.
“Put government on notice: we're watching. Don't screw it up again for B.C. children and their families this year,” said Lyne Filiatrault, a retired emergency room physician and member of PoP BC.
“We risk a rinse and repeat of last year if we don't act early and put precautions in place.”
The letter warns of a potentially deadly “tripledemic,” in which children in B.C. would be impacted by COVID-19, respiratory syncytial virus and the flu.
Filatrault said in 2022, pediatric emergency departments in the province were overwhelmed and kids were absent from school due to being home sick.
Last winter, over the span of two weeks, six children died from flu-related illnesses: One under the age of five, three between five and nine years old, and two between the ages of 15 and 19.
“Thing we still don't talk about is that every infection puts you at risk of other infections because it affects your immune system. OK, so why was RSV so hard last year? Why was influenza so severe last year?” Filatrault questioned.
"Scientists are believing that the (SARS-CoV-2) virus is causing immune suppression and putting us at risk of viruses and bacteria that used to not be a big deal, and suddenly they're a big deal.”
POP BC OUTLINES FIVE DEMANDS
The letter lists five things to ensure a safe return to school.
PoP BC believes classrooms should be well-ventilated and the air should be clean. It urges the B.C. government to provide reporting on indoor air quality, adding that other jurisdictions – such as Boston Public Schools – have already been doing this for the past two years.
The group would also like to see masking return to classrooms and says high-quality masks should be provided by the province for free.
Thirdly, it would like to see the province acknowledge that the virus that causes COVID-19 is airborne, hence the need for ventilation and masking.
“We are in 2023 and B.C. public health is still telling the public to wash their hands against an airborne virus. It's an embarrassment. It's a complete embarrassment,” Filatrault said.
A recent internal Health Canada memo revealed Ottawa is sitting on a stockpile of 39 million COVID rapid tests.
PoP BC would like to see the province hand out more rapid tests and provide better education on how to use the tests.
Lastly, it would like to see a better rollout of vaccinations against COVID-19 and the flu to ensure families are protected early in the flu season.
Last year, walk-in vaccination clinics were not open until the weekend of Dec. 9, after the six children had already died from flu-related illness, Filatrault said.
“Getting your flu vaccine doesn't mean you're protected, it takes another two weeks for you to develop antibodies and be protected. So, it was a complete snafu. I'm surprised nobody got fired,” she said of last year’s rollout.
Another goal of the letter is to inform parents it is critical to work together to protect every child, she said.
“We're telling parents don't wait on government to get it right. Protect your children. And it's not by acting individually, it's by acting collectively,” she said. “So don't send your kid to school if they're sick. Get them vaccinated as soon as possible against the flu or against COVID and stock up on rapid tests.”
HEALTH MINISTRY RESPONDS
CTV News Vancouver contacted both the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Education for comment.
The Ministry of Health responded in an email, saying: “Keeping students, staff, and teachers safe in schools is our top priority.”
Since 2020, the province and Ottawa have spent $219.4 million to help school districts in B.C. upgrade their ventilation and filtration systems.
For the upcoming school year, $41 million is earmarked to upgrade heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems.
“As (provincial health officer) Dr. (Bonnie) Henry has said throughout the pandemic, masks are protective equipment, but they are only as effective as we make them. They are a tool we can use as appropriate and when necessary,” the ministry said.
It did not address whether masks will be brought back in classrooms, but said it has a committee that meets weekly to review what’s happening in schools and monitor absenteeism.
A fall vaccination campaign will be rolled out with an updated COVID-19 vaccine, and more details will be released in the coming weeks, the ministry said.
It said rapid antigen tests are available at select pharmacies.
The ministry did not, however, address calls to acknowledge the virus is spread in the air.
It did remind people to practice “good respiratory etiquette and hand hygiene.”
CTVNews.ca Top Stories
Tensions flared in the Commons on Monday over opposition calls for House Speaker Anthony Rota to resign after apologizing to Parliament for inviting, recognizing and leading the chamber in a standing ovation for a man who fought for a Nazi unit during the Second World War.
Police have launched an investigation into a poster inviting "proud parents of European children" to participate in racially segregated playtime in B.C.'s Lower Mainland.
Polish ambassador to Canada says House Speaker Anthony Rota's apology doesn’t go far enough after a Nazi veteran was honoured in the House of Commons last Friday.
A Toronto-based real estate company says it is planning to build 5,000 new rental units in urban centres across the country as a result of the federal government's decision to eliminate GST charges on rental developments.
The field for the second Republican presidential debate will be smaller than the first.
The most up-to-date guidelines from the Canadian Medical Association Journal recommend the COVID-19 vaccine for anyone who is pregnant in order to reduce the risk of serious illness to themselves and the children they carry.
Canadian Sikhs staged small protests outside India's diplomatic missions on Monday, a week after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said there may be a link between New Delhi and the murder of a Sikh separatist advocate in British Columbia.
Canada has approved a vaccine to prevent Ebola in non-pregnant and otherwise healthy adults aged 18 and older.
Using the new and rapidly improving ability to piece together fragments of ancient DNA, scientists are finding that traits inherited from Neanderthals are still with us now, affecting our fertility, our immune systems, even how our bodies handled the COVID-19 virus.
Police in Nanaimo are looking for witnesses and dashcam video of a motorcycle crash that sent a rider to hospital with life-threatening injuries.
More than 6,000 BC Hydro customers were without power Monday morning as a fall storm brought heavy winds and rains to the region.
British Columbia's advocate for seniors is calling for “fundamental reform” in how the province funds contracted long-term care providers, after a study found for-profit facilities routinely under-delivered care for the funding they received.
Calgary police have released the name of a man killed in the community of Pineridge over the weekend.
Calgary police have charged three men and one teen in connection to a violent abduction in the community of Acadia earlier this month.
The Town of Banff is hoping a new affordable housing strategy can make a dent in the community's housing crisis.
Boyle Street Community Services (BSCS) has found several new locations to support its programming while the new King Thunderbird Centre is completed.
Laurent Brossoit relished being back on the ice and it showed. Brossoit made 26 saves as the Winnipeg Jets blanked the Edmonton Oilers 5-0 in pre-season action on Monday.
Chartier restaurant in Beaumont will remain open thanks to an anonymous investor.
'Greenbelt just the tip of the iceberg': Scrutiny turns to boundary changes benefiting developer who bought tickets to Ford stag party
The scandal over the removal of land from the protected Greenbelt for a connected few could be just "the tip of the iceberg" as opposition parties called for a new investigation of a different set of land changes that may prove to be another type of headache for Ontario's beleaguered government.
A man was rushed to hospital via emergency run after a stabbing in Toronto’s Weston neighbourhood on Monday night.
Ontario’s police watchdog has cleared a Hamilton police officer who was involved in the shooting death of a landlord who fatally shot two of his tenants in May.
A Quebec man accused of killing two young children by driving a city bus into a Montreal-area daycare is scheduled to return to court today.
A man is in critical condition after being stabbed in the town of Westmount, on the island of Montreal, on Monday night.
Quebec provincial police say three people are dead after a fishing boat sunk off the province's Lower North Shore early this morning.
New polling data shows Manitobans are almost split equally on whether or not to search a Winnipeg-area landfill for the remains of two Indigenous women.
A single-car crash in Winnipeg on Sunday night has left one person dead and three others in the hospital
The Manitoba Progressive Conservatives have their sights on safety entering the final full week of campaigning ahead of the Oct. 3 provincial vote.
Saskatoon police are calling on the public for information about a 16-year-old homicide investigation.
Police were called to an incident Friday night that initially sounded like a group of teens may have been battling it out in a city park.
The Saskatchewan Serious Incident Response Team (SIRT) is investigating Saskatoon police conduct during an arrest last week.
A man in Regina is facing 31 charges after allegedly causing gas leaks at 26 natural gas meters throughout downtown over the weekend.
Parole board staff feared threats as public learned of Sask. mass killer's prior release, emails show
Parole Board of Canada employees were fearful of threats after it was revealed a mass killer in Saskatchewan was on statutory release at the time of last year's rampage, emails show.
The Saskatchewan Roughriders have not won a game since the Labour Day Classic and are currently on a three-game slide after their weekend loss to the Ottawa Redblacks.
Four out of ten child patients in Canada are facing unsafe spinal surgery wait times, which could cost the health-care system $44.6 million, according to a new report that was published Monday.
A neighbourhood in Bedford is on edge after a pair of dog attacks that killed two family pets in separate incidents in West Bedford over the weekend.
Weather forecasts in the Maritimes are showing a sunny start to the fire week of Autumn.
Two forensic identification officers who helped process the scenes of the attack on the Afzaal family and of accused Nathaniel Veltman's apartment took the stand on Monday. Here’s what you need to know before Tuesday.
Homeless hub locations divide council members and public, but mayor says plan still a ‘whole of community response’
A deepening political divide over London’s plan to address the homelessness crisis may be a symptom of continued confusion and uncertainty among council’s constituents.
EXCLUSIVE 'We are investigating': London, Ont. high school football team cancels opener after hazing incident
Staff and coaches at Sir Wilfrid Laurier Secondary School in London are investigating a 'hazing incident' involving the Rams senior football team. One night prior to the season opener, a concerned community member notified the school of something happening on the football field.
A federal offender is wanted on a Canada-wide warrant for breaching his statutory release.
Highway 11 has partially reopened Monday afternoon after an early morning crash between two tractor-trailers near North Bay, police say.
A senior from Calvin Township died in a crash involving an off-road vehicle on private property east of North Bay on Sept. 20, police say.
A new queer and Indigenous-led centre in Kitchener has been targeted by vandalism, less than two weeks before it's set to open to the public.
The Mission says it needs to raise $50,000 to $70,000 by mid-October or else it’ll have to reduce hours.
Waterloo regional police have released pictures of someone they’re trying to identify in connection to an overnight break-in in Waterloo.