Less than a week into the new school year, New Westminster has seen its first reported COVID-19 school exposure.
École Qayqayt Elementary School saw an exposure on Sept. 8 between 8:45 a.m. and 10 a.m., according to the B.C. School COVID Tracker Facebook page today (Sept. 13).
School-wide exposure notifications are no longer being sent out for individual COVID-19 exposures, as the province has changed its notification system for the 2021/22 school year. Fraser Health also no longer publishes a list of current school exposures; its website now lists only current outbreaks, rather than individual cases.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, at an Aug. 31 briefing, said public health officials will now do assessments for all COVID-19 cases, as they would for any communicable disease, and that every individual who’s at risk will be notified.
That means families will not receive the general notification letters and phone calls from school principals that were done each time someone associated with a school tested positive for COVID-19 during the previous school year.
“We’ve heard very clearly from people that the majority of people felt that the school-based letters were more anxiety-provoking than helpful,” Henry said.
“We will absolutely be keeping the schools informed and working with the schools, with our school response teams, to make sure that every single case in the school setting is identified and the contacts are managed and that people are informed of what’s happening in the school setting.”
Henry said every outbreak and cluster will be made public.
B.C. School COVID Tracker is a parent-run effort to provide public information about COVID-19 in schools. It keeps a Facebook page and a database, with data provided by parents (and confirmation in the form of letters from public health). The Qayqayt exposure was confirmed via a “self-monitoring” letter sent to some members of the school community on Sept. 12.
The New Westminster school district’s updated COVID-19 Communicable Disease Plan for 2021/22 outlines the process to be followed for notification around COVID-19 cases in schools:
“When a person is confirmed as positive for COVID-19, significant efforts are undertaken to determine if they are part of a cluster of cases or part of a local outbreak and whether others in close contact with them are at risk for infection. Not everyone who has been in contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case is determined to be a close contact. Public health determines who is considered a close contact.
“Public health and the Rapid Response Team for COVID-19 will investigate and provide direction in cases of COVID-19 transmission within schools. Schools must not provide notification to staff or students' families if a staff member or student becomes ill at home or at school, including if they display symptoms of COVID-19, unless directed to do so by public health.”