On Oct. 25, BC Teacher’s Federation president Teri Mooring released a statement critical of inconsistencies in defining and declaring COVID-19 exposures in B.C. schools. (Twitter/BCTF)

On Oct. 25, BC Teacher’s Federation president Teri Mooring released a statement critical of inconsistencies in defining and declaring COVID-19 exposures in B.C. schools. (Twitter/BCTF)

Shuswap parent frustrated by reporting of school COVID-19 exposures

B.C. Teachers’ Federation criticizes lack of timeliness around contact tracing, notification

Suffering from the effects of COVID-19 weeks after her child’s school was temporarily closed because of the virus, Kirsten Stephens sees room for improvement in how school exposures are being reported.

As of Monday, Oct. 25, a little under three weeks had passed since Stephens and her daughter tested positive for the virus. Though double vaccinated, Stephens said she’s been in and out of the hospital since then and was very sick with COVID-19.

Stephens said she and her daughter, who attends Sorrento Elementary, are prone to respiratory illness.

On Oct. 5, Interior Health reported potential COVID-19 exposures occurred at the school on Sept. 22, 23, 24, 27, 28 and 29.

In an Oct. 14 interview, Stephens said she would have kept her daughter home if she’d known sooner that the virus was in the school. She said Interior Health needs to be more quick and consistent with how school exposures are being reported to the public.

This sentiment was echoed by B.C. Teachers’ Federation president Terri Mooring in a media release issued on Oct. 25. In it, Mooring and the BCTF are critical of inconsistencies in defining and declaring COVID-19 events in B.C. schools.

“It’s unacceptable that, over a year-and-a-half into this pandemic, there is still no province-wide consistency in how exposures and clusters in schools are defined and reported,” said Mooring. “Parents and teachers look to their school district and local health authority for information about what’s happening in their schools, and it has become very clear that the information provided and the communication to school communities is not painting an accurate picture. Trust in the system has been broken.”

Stephens has found her own trust in the health authority shaken.

“And that’s a scary thing during a pandemic…,” she said.

On Oct. 7, Sorrento Elementary parents received a letter from the school stating Interior Health had recommended two classes self-isolate until Oct. 12, and that day it was recommended a third class self-monitor until the 15th.

On Oct. 12, School District 83 announced Sorrento Elementary would undergo a week-long “functional closure” after members of the school community tested positive for COVID-19, resulting in “staffing constraints.” The following day, the school reported a cluster of confirmed cases in a Grade 2 class. The same day, additional exposure dates had been added: Oct. 1, 4, 5 and 6.

North Okanagan Shuswap Teachers Association president Graham Gomme said he visited teachers at the school prior to the closure was announced and asked that it be shut down.

“I went around to rooms talking to teachers in the morning before school started,” said Gomme. “There was 62 per cent of the students missing school that day, and for good reason. Parents were just keeping them home because they knew there were exposures for five or six straight days.”

Read more: COVID-19: North Okanagan-Shuswap parents concerned with timeliness of exposure reporting

Read more:COVID-19 cluster confirmed at Shuswap elementary school

Gomme concurs with the BCTF that exposure information isn’t reaching school communities soon enough.

Responding to concerns around reporting COVID-19 exposures in schools, Interior Health Medical Health Officer Dr. Silvina Mema told the Observer that from the time the health authority receives confirmation of a positive test involving a member of a school community, it has 48 hours to post it on the website. That includes the time it takes the health authority to investigate. However, she explained that timeline comes with caveats. One of them is when a period of time passes from when a student first experiences symptoms to when they test positive; and, at some point within that time frame, they’ve attended school.

Mema said Interior Health has a system in place that involves completing a thorough assessment of each and every case of infection to determine if there’s a risk and what that risk might be for a particular class or school.

“When we have that, and we have determined that there was risk to the school or the class, or there could have been risk… that’s when we post it to the website,” said Mema. “It’s not automatic, it’s not in real-time because there needs to be that assessment done.”

From her own conversations with Interior Health staff, however, Stephens remains unconvinced that the health authority is doing all it can to get information on school exposures to the public in a timely manner.

“I’ve had so many phone calls from Interior Health because I’m angry. I could have avoided this for myself and for my family,” said Stephens. “And they are not giving the information.”

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