B.C. Teachers Federation president Teri Mooring is fed up with province’s approach to COVID-19 safety in schools.
“We implored the provincial health office and the provincial government to take a go-slow approach to ensure we start the school year with all the safety measures in place, then we could potentially ease up later. We weren’t listened to,” she said.
Mooring’s comments come on the heels of the declaration of a COVID-19 outbreak that temporarily shuttered Promontory Heights elementary school in Chilliwack, where 20 members of the school community tested positive for the virus.
The BCTF has been calling on the province to institute a kindergarten to Grade 12 mask mandate for months — the mandate currently covers only those Grades 4 and up — as well as more action on improving ventilation in schools.
Another issue is the lack of information on COVID-19 cases in schools. The province recently reversed its decision not to notify parents about COVID-19 exposures in schools, initially claiming that the exposure notifications ‘caused anxiety’ among parents. Due to the lack of information coming from the province, parents have taken to social media to track COVID-19 cases and notify each other of potential exposures.
“Unless they have gotten a notification about being a close contact, [parents] have no information from the local health authorities or the school about cases of COVID-19 that are happening in their school,” Mooring said.
Daniel Coombs, a professor of mathematics at UBC and a member of the B.C. COVID-19 Modelling Group said data shows that COVID-19 cases in children were rising before school went back in session. Data recently released by the province shows that infection rates are climbing among those 10 and under, despite declining for more of the general population.
Coombs noted that secondary schools should be less likely to drive transmission as students aged 12 and up are eligible for vaccination and have the mask mandate in place.
“In elementary schools, with mostly unvaccinated kids, and no masking among the younger ages, I am very curious as to whether the additional transmissibility of Delta will drive more outbreaks,” Coombs said.
The Delta variant, combined with a lack of masking and no access to vaccines for children under 12 has B.C. teachers concerned that transmission in elementary schools will get worse. Mooring said that last year, 75 per cent of teachers who filed COVID-19 claims to WorkSafe B.C. were elementary school teachers.
“It’s really frustrating that something that could have been predicted and should have been predicted wasn’t. And now we have what might be the first of many more school closures,” Mooring said.
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