The New Westminster school district has seen its first exposure to a COVID-19 variant.
New Westminster Secondary School families were just notified (March 4) that a previously announced exposure that took place on Feb. 19 has been found to be a variant of concern – a strain that is more transmissible than the original virus.
“I recognize that this may be concerning for some, but please be assured that our school district will continue to follow strict health and safety protocols that are in place to keep our staff and students as safe as is possible,” said a letter to families from principal Murray McLeod.
McLeod’s letter says that, based on contact tracing, Fraser Health has already directed specific individuals to stay home and self-isolate.
Details of the person involved (such as whether it was a staff member or student, and what class or cohort they may be part of) are not given out for privacy reasons.
The number of variant exposures in schools has been rising in Fraser Health, the region that covers the territory from Burnaby to Boston Bar.
At her briefing March 4, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the province has seen variant exposures in 23 schools (a number that did not include NWSS or any other cases that may have been reported later today). She said health officials have been working particularly closely with the Surrey school district, where the majority of those variant cases have been found so far.
SCHOOL TRANSMISSION NOT WIDESPREAD
Henry said health officials have responded with extra testing in schools because of concerns over the increased transmissibility of variant strains. But despite what she referred to as a “ton of testing,” she said, not much transmission has been found – citing four additional cases in three schools so far.
“We’re not seeing widely taking off transmission from these variant cases, but it’s anxiety-provoking, it’s stressful for the public health teams, for the school communities,” she said. “And, yes, the best way to stop that is to reduce transmission in our communities so we don’t have people in the school community, both the educators and students, who become infected with the virus.”
The provincial health officer has maintained throughout the pandemic that COVID-19 exposures in schools would reflect the situation in communities, and she said that continues to be true as concerns rise over the presence of variant strains of the virus in B.C.
B.C. has now identified 246 cases involving variant strains, the majority of those (218) being the B117 (U.K.) variant and 28 being the B1351 (South African).