British Columbia

B.C. resumes notifying parents about COVID-19 school exposures after outcry

British Columbia is reversing course on notifying parents about COVID-19 exposures at schools after the provincial health officer previously said reporting of single cases caused too much anxiety.

Provincial health officer previously said notifications would only go out for outbreaks and clusters

Parents and teachers from across the province have let it be known they need to be informed about the transmission of the novel coronavirus, Dr. Bonnie Henry said Tuesday. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

British Columbia is reversing course on notifying parents about COVID-19 exposures at schools after the provincial health officer previously said reporting of single cases caused too much anxiety.

Dr. Bonnie Henry said Tuesday that parents and teachers from across the province have let it be known they need to be informed about the transmission of the virus and that a new system is expected to be in place by the end of the week.

"We have asked our team to get together right now to make sure that we can notify schools in a timely, less intrusive and more sustainable way and that parents will have access to that information rapidly," she said.

Henry said in early September that notifications would go out only for outbreaks or clusters, prompting parents and the B.C. Teachers' Federation to say that not having an understanding of what's going on at schools would create more anxiety.

An online "COVID tracker" page created last year by Richmond mother Kathy Marliss includes data based on exposure and case information submitted by teachers, parents and administrators. She has said parents, teachers and students would be better served if the data came directly from the province.

Henry said parents of students who have been exposed to COVID-19 would be notified but that following up on each case could take longer than expected as public health teams prioritize schools in order to keep youth learning there.

Lizanne Foster, a Surrey teacher and education advocate, told CBC's The Early Edition on Wednesday there were more than 50 notifications last year at the high school where she works and said she was baffled by Henry's explanation about preventing parental anxiety.

"Why would anxiety trump parents knowing how to protect their children?" she said.

Foster said she's relieved to hear reporting is returning, adding that while the situation feels less dire at secondary schools where older students can be vaccinated, younger students are still vulnerable to the coronavirus.

"It's in elementary schools right now that teachers are absolutely beside themselves," she said. 

Lyndsey Locke, who has an immunocompromised 11-year-old daughter who returned to school this fall, said she's glad the notices are back. 

"For us, it allows us to make better informed decisions for risk for her as to whether or not we send her to school or keep her home," Locke said. 

She said she'd like for the notices to be timely and come out as quickly as possible. 

"I would like to know if there's COVID in the school and if there's COVID in my daughter's classroom."

B.C. reported 759 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, moving active cases up to 5,458.

A further 10 people have died, bringing the death toll to 1,910 since the pandemic began.

Pregnant people urged to get the shot

Henry also encouraged people who are pregnant, planning to get pregnant or breastfeeding to get vaccinated against COVID-19 after 40 pregnant women received intensive care in B.C. in the last few months.

While that group of people wasn't included in clinical trials, real-life evidence shows vaccination prevents severe illness and hospitalization, Henry added.

Health-care workers, including those who are in their child-bearing years, should get vaccinated to protect themselves, their colleagues and others who may be exposed to the virus, she said.

There's no increased risk of complications for immunized pregnant women or to their baby, and international data shows no difference in the rates of miscarriage, early birth, stillbirth or other adverse effects, Henry said.

"I can unequivocally say these vaccines do not affect fertility in women, or in boys, or in young men. They do not affect fertility. There's no way they can do that. That is one of the common lies that is out there right now, designed to create fear."

The delta variant has shown unvaccinated pregnant women experience higher rates of stillbirth and preterm birth, leading to their priority vaccination in many provinces.

The Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada as well as a national vaccine advisory panel have recommended vaccines for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

With files from The Early Edition, On The Coast

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