New Westminster families can now get information about school exposures in the district online – but that published data doesn’t reflect cases from the first few weeks of the school year.
For the first few weeks of school, Fraser Health’s website had only a section for “current outbreaks,” where two are currently listed (Promontory Heights Elementary School in Chilliwack, and Maple Ridge Christian School).
Now, the site once again has sections for each of the 13 school districts in the region, plus independent schools. It says schools will remain on the list until 14 days have passed from the last exposure date.
The independent Urban Academy in New Westminster saw an exposure Sept. 22, 23 and 24.
The New Westminster (School District 40) section currently lists one exposure: at Lord Kelvin Elementary School on Sept. 24.
The B.C. School COVID Tracker database, however, also lists a current exposure at École Qayqayt Elementary School, where someone with COVID-19 was at school on Sept. 20, 21 and 22. The database is a parent-run effort, which uses information supplied by parents and verified by health authority letters.
The letter in the Qayqayt case is dated Sept. 27 – the day before the province switched its reporting system.
The Record has reached out to Fraser Health to verify whether the Fraser Health website will only list exposures where notifications were sent out Sept. 28 or later, or whether any previous exposures that are still current will be added retroactively.
‘IT TAKES TIME’: DR. BONNIE HENRY
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, in a media briefing on Sept. 28, said school exposures will be posted if somebody was at a school while in their infectious period and if there is deemed to be an increased risk to others.
“Right now, we know that the risk to people who are vaccinated is much, much less than the risk to those who are unvaccinated, and we take that into account as well when we are talking about a school setting,” she said.
Henry also cautioned that official school exposure notifications will take time and may “lag behind certain parent postings.”
“It takes time for public health to be notified of a positive lab test and to do that important case investigation,” she said.
She noted parents get direct information about their own child’s potential COVID-19 status and “them sharing that information is something that is helpful to some communities.”
“But what we will have is an authoritative source where people can go to find out if there has been exposure events at their school,” she said.
Health authorities will not be sending out school-wide letters this year for general exposure notifications. Henry said letters will be sent directly to those identified as needing to self-monitor for symptoms or to self-isolate.
TIMELY DATA NEEDED: PARENTS
The issue of school exposure notifications remains on the radar for New Westminster's district parent advisory council (DPAC).
The local DPAC was one of five signatories to a letter to Health Minister Adrian Dix and Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside, asking for changes to ensure the safety of students in the face of rising case numbers among unvaccinated children.
"We are pleased that the government recognizes the importance of exposure notifications to parents in making informed choices for their families," the letter says. "We believe that given the increased transmissibility of the Delta variant, exposure notifications should prioritize speed and specificity so that parents can take immediate action. Exposure notifications should take less than five days."
New Westminster DPAC president Kathleen Carlsen also raised the issue at the Tuesday, Sept. 28 school board meeting. She stressed the need for families to have current and clear information about COVID-19 in schools.
"Providing less will only fuel more rumours and distress," she said.
WHERE TO FIND OUT ABOUT NEW WESTMINSTER SCHOOL EXPOSURES
New Westminster school exposures will be listed at Fraser Health’s school exposures webpage.
B.C. School COVID Tracker
This parent-run database uses information provided directly by parents and verified by official health authority letters. There's a searchable database online.
This new site, created by New Westminster parent Gabriel Bauman, provides a listing of COVID-19 "hotspots" in B.C. schools, as well as a search function to find out school-specific information. Parents can also sign up for exposure alerts and report exposures. (Note that the listings may include both confirmed and unconfirmed exposures; they are identified as such, with confirmed exposures including documentation.)