Presence of COVID-19 variants at Lower Mainland schools prompts solidarity march
VANCOUVER -- Teachers at two Surrey Schools staged a “walk-in” Wednesday morning, after a faster-spreading variant of COVID-19 was detected in local school communities.
It was meant to draw attention to some of the health and safety concerns staff, students, and parents have been raising for months.
Staff at A.H.P. Matthew and Maple Green elementary schools wore red and marched around their schools just before the morning bell.
“The conditions are not the greatest for teachers and that we think there probably should be a masks for all mandate coming down from the province, “ said Deborah Jackson, a teacher at A.H.P Matthew that helped organize the walk-in.
“I’m feeling really stressed because there are so many protocols to follow and a lot of people, kids especially, are not wearing masks and that makes me nervous because I don’t want to be a transmitter,” she explained.
Participants wore masks and practiced physical distancing.
Classes and student drop-off were not impacted.
Similar action was taken at two other impacted schools in the city last week, when dozens of people marched outside Ecole Woodward Hill and James Ardiel elementary schools.
Participants said the goal was to show each other support in a time of uncertainty.
The B.C. Teachers' Federation has been calling for a mandatory mask policy inside elementary schools, but it’s an issue health officials have refused to budge on.
“I would say based on what we know about the new variants of COVID-19, I would not recommend a change in our masking recommendation,” said Dr. Reka Gustafson, deputy provincial health officer, in a news conference last month.
The Surrey Teachers Association would like to see individual school districts have more say in their pandemic protocols.
“We think the provincial government needs to give them the power to address COVID hotspots, which we definitely have many (of) in Surrey. I’ve lost count of the number of schools where we’ve seen exposures to variants,” said Matt Westphal, president of the Surrey Teachers Association.
“The pandemic conditions are not the same across the province and neither should the rules (be).”
The superintendent of Surrey Schools is also hopeful provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry will allow districts to adjust protocols based on how the virus is spreading within their school communities.
“There are universal rules, and how do those rules ramp up a bit for targeted places and places where it is intensive?" Supt. Jordan Tinney asked on CTV Morning Live Wednesday morning.
“We’ve had schools where we’ve had over 40 or 50 exposures, so they are definitely unique. So, should there be something different (in those places)?"
On Wednesday afternoon, the province released daily case numbers, revealing there are now 11 active variant cases, up three from the day before.
UBC biomathetician Sally Otto, who’s also part of a research team tracking COVID cases, said the low number of variant cases means there is still time to limit the spread.
“I don't yet think we're at the stage where it's like a rocket launch and the launch has happened. And then it's very, very hard once the numbers get high – more than 50 cases – where at that point, it's really hard to control it,” Otto said.
She said it is reassuring to see the health authority has taken steps to stop transmission.
“I know that Fraser Health has done a really good job of ramping up the testing of people that have been exposed to variants of concern. And I think that they are being more proactive by sending whole classrooms home. So my guess is that this is really good news and saying Fraser is taking this seriously,” she said.
Now, Surrey teachers hope the province take their demands seriously.
Westphal said swift action is needed in order to stay on top of what he calls an “alarming” trajectory of COVID-19 variants in Surrey schools.
“I really worry if we just keep on waiting until it gets really bad, we may be trying to catch up and it may be really too late to get it under control,” Westphal told CTV News.
Fraser Health said it’s doing everything it can to stop the variants from spreading.
“As these are variants that are new to our communities and more easily transmissible, Fraser Health is working to identify any further connected variant cases to ensure immediate isolation and case management to prevent further transmission,” said the health authority in an email.
Twenty schools in the Fraser Health region have reported exposures to COVID-19 variants so far.
A previous version of this story said the two schools that held walk-in marches had confirmed variant cases. However, only one school has reported a variant COVID-19 case.