Burnaby resident wants more transparency around COVID exposures in schools
“They say these notifications create anxiety, but from what I've heard from teachers and parents is that the lack of information creates even more anxiety. What it does is it increases speculation and rumours.”
A Burnaby mom says news of COVID exposures in schools should be coming from public health, not word of mouth, after she was told by a fellow parent that her son may have been exposed to COVID.
Sylvia Fuller’s son started 6th grade 3 weeks ago at an elementary school in the Burnaby School District. Her son is 10 years old, and not eligible to be vaccinated.
For the 1st week of school, kids went to their old classrooms before being sent to new ones in the 2nd week.
Fuller says a student in 1 classroom tested positive in the 1st week.
“Kids who were exposed to the COVID positive students were then subsequently placed in the class with my son. And they are friends of my son’s. So my son was potentially exposed to those students who were exposed this week in school. And none of the secondary exposures… have been officially notified about that,” she said.
Last year, parents may have received an official notification from Fraser Health if that were to happen. Things are different this year.
Changes to reporting procedures
On September 1, provincial health officer Dr Bonnie Henry announced notifications to parents about COVID exposures in schools would stop entirely, unless they were declared clusters or outbreaks.
“We have heard very clearly from people that the majority of people felt that the school-based letters were more anxiety provoking than helpful but we will absolutely be keeping the schools informed and working with the schools,” Henry said.
But Fuller said the situation she’s in proves the exact opposite, saying it had caused “greater anxiety” because she doesn’t know whether public health will ever tell her if her child has been exposed to COVID.
And the anxiety gets worse, she said, when information comes through word of mouth and the grapevine, rather than from an official public health source.
“It’s bananas. There’s been a huge delay as well, and we shouldn’t have to rely on word of mouth to find out what’s happening in our schools, and parents who are less connected are not going to have that information,” she said.
President of the Burnaby Teachers Association Daniel Tétrault agreed.
“They say these notifications create anxiety, but from what I’ve heard from teachers and parents is that the lack of information creates even more anxiety,” he said.
“What it does is it increases speculation and rumours.”
Information for families
Tétrault said he was aware of at least 5 COVID exposures in schools in Burnaby in the first 2 weeks of the school year. Two of the schools involved had multiple exposures.
Fraser Health’s school exposures page has been updated to include only a list of current outbreaks, where it used to show active exposures too. There are no outbreaks currently active across the health authority.
It’s especially important for Fuller to know about any possible exposures because her partner is considered very clinically vulnerable—to the point where the family made the decision that he would move out of the house so that their son could be able to go to school in the current context.
“Our plan is to see him on weekends. And so this is sort of critical information that we would use to decide whether it’s safe to visit him on a given weekend or not,” Fuller said.
“If there’s been an exposure in his classroom, we would cancel that visit.”
Fuller said with Fraser Health not advising parents of possible exposures, her family is being put in a dangerous situation. She said she’s grateful they have the resources that allow her partner to live separately for his own safety, and recognized that others with the same health concerns might not be able to do that.
“Your ability to keep your family members safe shouldn’t be dependent on individual initiative and resources,” Fuller said.
Layers of protection
Fuller also said safety measures in schools should be upped—echoing calls from the BTA for K-3 students to be wearing masks in schools too. While her son is required to wear a mask while at school as a Grade 6 student, many of the younger students he’s around don’t have to mask up.
And she said the province should be making rapid tests far more easily accessible to the public.
“Why is it that I had to spend $450 out of my own pocket to order rapid tests on the internet, and then I was sent the wrong test because I don’t have access to these tests that have been bought by our federal government?” she asked.
“[They’re] sitting out of reach of citizens in this province, we can’t access those. We can’t buy them in a local pharmacy for a reasonable rate. Nova Scotia is giving them out for free. I don’t understand it.”
Of the nearly 2.8 million rapid tests bought by the federal government and distributed to BC, just under 126,000 have been used.
Under BC’s rapid testing program, workplaces that wish to use rapid tests can apply to the province. The program does not apply to schools.
Tétrault agreed that in the absence of other safety measures that were in place last year, teachers and parents need “more timely information, not less”—and said public health should in fact be utilizing the information teachers have about their own classrooms.
‘Teachers need to be part of contact tracing. The fact that we have no reduced density or cohorts—teachers hold information that students may not know—who they’re sitting next to, what activities they were doing,” he said.
“So the more teachers are involved in the contact tracing, the better.”