'It's becoming the norm for us': More COVID exposures at Surrey schools
VANCOUVER -- After only a handful of days with students back in class, several B.C. school districts have reported possible COVID-19 exposures at some of their schools – and the Surrey superintendent is warning this is likely something families in his district will need to get used to.
Emails from the Surrey School District were sent to parents Tuesday night, warning of possible exposures at William Watson Elementary School and Sullivan Heights Secondary.
Both said an individual who tested positive for COVID-19 was at each of the schools on Sept. 10., the first day of class for students. Neither email specified if the individuals were teachers, staff members, or students. There have also been positive cases at Panorama Ridge Secondary and Johnston Heights Secondary in Surrey.
“Quickly it’s becoming the norm for us, it’s been one every two or three days,” said superintendent Jordan Tinney.
At William Watson Elementary, many parents walking their children to school Wednesday morning said they felt anxious about their children returning.
“We’re kind of aware this is a possibility, this could happen,” said parent Keri Gill, adding she was "a little surprised... and a little shaken up.”
The exposures are being called "low risk," and contact tracing is underway. Anyone who does not receive a phone call or letter from the school does not need to self-isolate, but should continue to monitor for symptoms of COVID-19.
Parent Joeliza Santos, who has four children at William Watson, says she would like to know more about the “low-risk” designation.
“I just wasn’t happy that they aren’t telling us if it’s a parent, staff, or maybe a student," Santos said.
‘Expect a letter,’ Surrey superintendent says
Tinney says letters from the district and health authority about possible exposure and cases linked to schools may be more common this year than parents had been hoping for.
“I would say as a parent, expect a letter,” he told CTV News.
“Talk right now about what you would do when you get a letter. Are you going to say ‘hey, I’m going to keep my child at home,’ or are you going to take it in stride and keep them safe at school?”
Tinney says the work of contact tracers with public health will likely allow schools to remain open in most cases when students and staff test positive.
“Their contact tracing is really incredible,” Tinney told CTV News. “We’re talking about even in a learning group of 30, we might say hey, these six students are isolated, or these 10 are watching for symptoms.”
While some cases are inevitable as long as the virus is circulating in the community, the real goal is to keep COVID-19 from spreading person to person inside schools.
“We do know that it can spread in a classroom setting,” said Simon Fraser University infectious disease modeller Caroline Colijn. “There have been schools particularly in Chile and in Israel where there have been large numbers, half of a Grade 7 class, half of a Grade 8 cohort for example.”
It’s also happening in Quebec where 237 schools have confirmed cases. “They also do have some outbreaks, there was one of size 20 one of size 10 and several others, so I think points to the fact COVID can spread in Canadian schools,” said Colijn.
The data modeller believes it’s important school districts are transparent about where COVID cases have been confirmed, something Surrey is already doing.
“It’s such an unusual time, and I think the message is we are in this together so here’s what we’re dealing with warts and all,” said Tinney. “I believe that the transparency builds public trust.”
The provincial government has announced it’s creating a website that will list all the COVID exposures in B.C. schools.
“I think its really laudable,” said Colijn. “I think if we could do that without violating privacy or health private data, then we should do it.”