British Columbia

3 schools in Fraser Health closing for 2 weeks due to COVID-19

The Fraser Health Authority says Cambridge Elementary School in Surrey, Jarvis Elementary School in Delta, and Al-Hidayah School, an independent school in New Westminster, are closing for two weeks due to COVID-19 cases.

Cambridge Elementary School, Jarvis Elementary School and Al-Hidayah School to close for 2 weeks

The Fraser Health Authority has announced the temporary closure of three schools due to COVID-19 infections. (CBC)

The Fraser Health Authority announced Saturday evening that three schools are closing for two weeks due to COVID-19 cases.

There have been seven cases at Cambridge Elementary School in Surrey, which Fraser Health has classified as an outbreak.

Jarvis Elementary School in Delta has seen six cases, while Al-Hidayah School, an independent school in New Westminster, has seen eight. These are being described as clusters. 

In a release, the health authority says it advised Cambridge to close for a two-week period to "break any chains of COVID-19 transmission that may be present at the school."

The two other schools will close voluntarily for a two-week period, the release said, due to staffing challenges presented by the clusters, meaning students at these schools will transition to remote learning for the two weeks.

Cambridge Elementary School has seen seven cases of COVID-19. (Surrey School District)

'This closure will cause disruption'

Jordan Tinney, superintendent for Surrey schools, said in a letter to the families of Cambridge that the cases at the school dated back to mid-October and that an outbreak was declared because the transmission of cases happened on-site and beyond a single cohort.

He said the school will be closed until Nov. 30.

"We ... appreciate the fact that this closure will cause disruption and inconvenience for many," said the letter. "The safety of our school is of utmost importance and we appreciate your patience and understanding."

Fraser Health says that if a student or teacher receives a confirmed positive COVID-19 test result, contact tracing is done to determine how the person was infected and who they were in close contact with in order to advise for self-monitoring or isolation.

On Friday, the province announced 617 new confirmed cases of the disease in B.C. Nearly 70 per cent of those cases were in the Fraser Health region.

More than a dozen school districts in the region have had exposure events for the virus.

Teachers' federation demands changes

On Saturday, before the school closures were announced, the B.C. Teachers' Federation called on the province to immediately reduce the number of students per class to 15 in the Fraser Health region, as COVID-19 cases in the region continue to surge.

In a letter posted to Twitter Saturday morning, BCTF president Teri Mooring wrote that the rise in cases is of deep concern to teachers working in that health authority.

"With class sizes what they are now, teachers find it virtually impossible to maintain physical distancing in classes," she wrote.

Transmission investigation

Doctors of B.C. President Dr. Kathleen Ross says reducing class sizes is one preventative measure Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry could consider, but first officials must understand how the cases in schools were transmitted.

She said that officials need to balance the risk of transmission against the importance of having children in school.

"Having said that, I fully support a two week shutdown in those areas that are affected while we investigate these episodes and clusters, and decide what changes need to be made, if any, to try and prevent further transmission," Ross said. 

Ross said that at the current rate of transmission in the Fraser Health Region, more cases at schools would not be unexpected.

Henry said modelling shows that so far schools have not been a major source of transmission, with nine out of 10 schools having no exposure. There have been exposures in 261 of B.C.'s 1,942 schools.

Kelowna's École de l'Anse-au-sable was the first school in the province to close temporarily due to an outbreak of COVID-19. Nearly a dozen staff and students were infected and 160 were required to self-isolate, while the school was closed from late October to early November.

Also on Saturday, Fraser Health declared new COVID-19 outbreaks at three long-term care centres.

They are the George Derby Care Centre in Burnaby, the Kiwanis Care Centre in New Westminster, and Jackman Manor in Aldergrove.

Enhanced control measures have been put in place at each site.

On Friday, the province said there were 35 active outbreaks in long-term care and assisted living and six in acute care facilities.

Fraser Health said it is working with staff to identify anyone who may have been exposed and is taking steps to protect the health of all staff, residents and families.

The health authority is also asking anyone living in the health region to use its assessment tool and get tested if they are experiencing any COVID-19 symptoms.