One classroom at École Qayqayt Elementary School as been sent into self-isolation as COVID-19 cases continue to climb at the school.
The downtown New Westminster school has been the hardest-hit of School District 40's schools so far in the 2021/22 school year. The school has seen a number of exposures since last week, involving someone who was in the school on Oct. 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8. So far, only the Oct. 4 and 5 dates are listed on the Fraser Health school exposures website.
The B.C. School COVID Tracker database confirms those two dates refer to at least two separate cases. The parent-run database also posted notice over the weekend of two more exposures (one regarding Oct. 5, 6, 7 and 8; the other Oct. 6, 7 and 8). Then, on Tuesday afternoon, it followed up with sharing yet another exposure, this one relating to a self-isolation notice related to Oct. 6, 7, 8, 11 and 12. (That letter was in fact sent on Oct. 12, the same day as the final exposure occurred.)
In total, it appears that at least eight separate exposures have occurred at the school since the beginning of the year, at least five of those within the past two weeks.
An "exposure" means that someone who has since tested positive for COVID-19 was in the school during their potentially infectious period on the date or dates in question, and that other people may be at risk of having come in contact with the virus. Health officials do not publish the number of cases involved, so it's not known whether the dates involve one person or multiple cases.
The Qayqayt exposures have not, at this point, been defined as a "cluster." The B.C. Centre for Disease Control defines a cluster as "when there are several cases in a school within a two-week period. Public health thinks people may have been infected at school."
PARENTS SEEK CLARITY ON EXPOSURES
Parent Anne Whitmore, speaking at the New Westminster school board's Oct. 12 operations committee meeting, told trustees she was faced with not just the multiple exposure notices for her school but also with reports that a student in her child's classroom had tested positive for COVID-19 – a case for which she has yet to see official notification from Fraser Health.
She pointed out that the Fraser Health website provides simply a list of dates when potential "exposures" happened; it doesn't break down when multiple exposures may have happened on the same day, and it doesn't provide further information such as which division or classroom an exposure occurred in – all of which leaves families scrambling for information.
“You can imagine I was slightly stressed figuring out what to do with my three kids today," she said.
The stress in her household is magnified by the fact that they have a family member with a lung condition, Whitmore noted.
Kathleen Carlsen, chair of the district parent advisory council, also raised concern over the Qayqayt exposures.
“I understand that we’re not experts and you’re not experts," she told trustees. "But it doesn’t take a rocket scientists or an engineer to understand that these numbers are unacceptable. ... It’s not just a couple of parents who are anxious about COVID.”
HOW MANY CASES HAVE THERE BEEN?
As of Oct. 6, the New Westminster school district had sent out three self-monitor notifications and one self-isolation notice (involving two people) regarding Qayqayt exposures. Only one other self-isolation notice had been issued in the district, that one to five people at Lord Kelvin Elementary School. A total of 12 self-monitor letters had been sent regarding cases at seven different facilities.
The complete list of self-monitor and self-isolation notifications is available in the New Westminster school district's monthly COVID report, which superintendent Karim Hachlaf presented at the Oct. 12 meeting.
He noted that the self-isolation notice for Qayqayt was issued after his report was prepared and will be included in his next monthly presentation. But he confirmed that it involves one single class at Qayqayt.
"The school remains open," he said.
So far in the 2021/22 school year, seven of the New Westminster school district's 12 schools have seen exposures, as has one independent school. See the full list below.
COVID EXPOSURES IN NEW WESTMINSTER SCHOOLS
Here’s what has transpired in the 2021/22 school year so far in New Westminster:
- École Qayqayt Elementary: Sept. 8 (reported by B.C. School COVID Tracker; predated change to Fraser Health notifications)
- École Qayqayt Elementary: Sept. 20, 21, 22 (reported by B.C. School COVID Tracker; predated change to Fraser Health notifications)
- Urban Academy (independent): Sept. 22, 23, 24 (reported on Fraser Health site Sept. 29)
- Herbert Spencer Elementary: Sept. 21 (reported on Fraser Health site Oct. 1)
- Lord Kelvin Elementary: Sept. 24 (reported on Fraser Health site Sept. 29)
- Lord Tweedsmuir Elementary: Sept. 21, 22, 23, 24 (reported on Fraser Health site Oct. 1; B.C. School COVID Tracker confirms this is at least three separate cases)
- New Westminster Secondary: Sept. 22, 23, 24 (reported on Fraser Health site Oct. 3)
- Lord Kelvin Elementary: Sept. 22, 23, 28 (dates added on Fraser Health site Oct. 3)
- New Westminster Secondary: Sept. 28 (date added on Fraser Health site Oct. 4)
- Urban Academy (independent): Sept. 27, 28 (dates added on Fraser Health site Oct. 1)
- Glenbrook Middle School: Sept. 25, 26, 28, 29, Oct. 1 (listed on Fraser Health site Oct. 7)
- École Qayqayt Elementary School: Sept. 27, 28, 29, Oct. 1 (dates added on Fraser Health site Oct. 7)
- Skwo:wech Elementary School: Sept. 23, 24, 27, 28, 29 (listed on Fraser Health site Oct. 7)
- École Qayqayt Elementary School: Oct. 4,5 (listed on Fraser Health site Oct. 9; B.C. School COVID Tracker confirms this is at least two separate exposures)
- New Westminster Secondary: Oct. 4, 5, 6 (dates added on Fraser Health site Oct. 9)
- École Qayqayt Elementary School: Oct. 5, 6, 7, 8 (dates not yet added on Fraser Health site; B.C. School COVID Tracker confirms at least two separate exposures involving this date range, with emails sent Oct. 11)
- École Qayqayt Elementary School: Oct. 6, 7, 8, 11, 12 (separate case from above; one full class sent into isolation)
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.)