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Here's what's changing about B.C. school exposure notifications

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The way parents are notified about possible exposures to COVID-19 at British Columbia schools is changing, officials said Friday.

The speed at which transmissions are being reported, as well as challenges with overburdened testing labs, mean it's not realistic to notify the community of some potential exposures.

Going forward, families will only be notified of school exposures when attendance drops below what Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside called typical rates.

"I understand that parents and caregivers want to know what's happening with COVID in schools, and so we have worked with public health on a system to ensure that we can continue to provide communication to parents," Whiteside said.

"This is going to look, though, very different from what has been in place before, because as public health has advised us, individual case management and contact tracing is no longer a helpful tool for us in tracking cases in schools."

She said there's a need for a "proxy" to understand what's happening in schools, and that will be school attendance.

Schools will monitor attendance rates closely, and will notify public health and the school community "if attendance dips notably below typical rates for this time of year."

Whiteside said this threshold would be about 10 per cent higher than normal absenteeism, but that that would vary by school and school district.

"Educators know their classrooms… they know what is a general level of absence," she said.

When it comes to teachers, if a quarter of staff is out that would be a challenge, districts have been saying. But that threshold too will depend on the school or school district.

When the attendance dips to that threshold, it will trigger a response from public health that may include investigation, rapid testing and other measures, depending on the situation.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said notices will still be sent out when there's an outbreak in a class or school, however.

While there are changes to this measure, other things remain the same, including that students will be wearing masks.

Parents are asked to send their children to school with three-layer masks if possible, and schools will have some available for free if needed. As they've been doing for nearly two years, students and staff will still be required to do a daily health check before leaving home, and to stay home if they have any symptoms.

Henry was asked whether parents should keep their kids home when they have the sniffles, knowing that they may not be able to access a COVID-19 test with labs at capacity and rapid tests in short supply.

"If in doubt, keep your child home… Omicron does affect younger people," she said, adding it makes a "huge difference" if a child is vaccinated. When their symptoms start getting better, students can return to class.

With files from CTV News Vancouver's Alyse Kotyk

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