British Columbia

Contact tracing working well with zero outbreaks in B.C. schools, provincial health officer says

B.C.'s provincial health officer says the province has not seen any COVID-19 outbreaks in schools since classes reopened in September thanks to a robust system of contact tracers who are quickly isolating people who test positive.

Dr. Bonnie Henry announced 82 more cases of COVID-19 and 1 new death Thursday

Dr. Bonnie Henry said Thursday she has been closely monitoring the work of contact workers and says they have been able to manage every single exposure event. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

B.C.'s provincial health officer says the province has not seen any COVID-19 outbreaks in schools since classes reopened in September thanks to a robust system of contact tracers who are quickly isolating people who test positive.

Dr. Bonnie Henry said Thursday she has been closely monitoring the work of contact workers and says they have been able to manage every single exposure event. 

"I am confident that it is working and working well," Henry said, as she announced 82 new COVID-19 cases and one new death, continuing a recent downward trend.

"Our public health teams are on the ground identifying every new case."

Henry clarified the public health terms "outbreak" and "exposures" when applied to schools.

Schools have reported exposures, when a single person tests positive and has been in the school during their infectious period. There have also been a few instances of transmission in classrooms, but none of them widespread, Henry said.

She said an outbreak in a school would mean that transmission is ongoing and that it's not clear to health officials who is transmitting the disease.

Henry also acknowledged the province has stumbled at times when communicating COVID-19 exposures in schools. Not all regional health authorities were reporting school exposures online in the first weeks of class.

"It's important to recognize that we don't always get it right, right off," she said.

"We're working through those kinks and continue to refine our approach. I'm confident now that our communication approach is aligned in all health authorities across the province."

The province conducted a record 10,899 tests over the last 24-hour period, leading to a positivity rate of less than one per cent for the first time since July 29.

B.C.'s average daily cases have been gently trending downward, with the number of daily tests increasing fairly rapidly, a positive sign after the province saw a surge in cases in the summer.

Henry acknowledged delays of up to four days in sharing negative test results, due to various lab platforms being used across the province. 

But the province isn't facing a test backlog, she said, and people who test positive are notified within 24 hours.

In comparison, Ontario reported a record-high backlog of 82,000 tests Thursday.

There are now 1,261 active cases of people infected with COVID-19 in B.C. Sixty-nine people are in hospital, 19 of whom are in intensive care.

The province's death toll stands at 235. The latest death was in the Fraser Health region, Henry said.

Public health officials are actively monitoring 3,093 people who are in self-isolation due to COVID-19 exposure.

Henry announced one new additional health-care outbreak at the George Derby Centre in Burnaby, B.C., bringing the total number of health-care outbreaks to 18. No new community outbreaks have been reported. 

RCMP mask-wearing policy reversed

On Thursday, the RCMP reversed its policy on mask-wearing which required front-line officers to wear properly fitted N95 respirator masks after it was accused of discrimination over the rule, which saw bearded Mounties — including Sikh and Muslim officers — reassigned to desk duty.

Last week, when asked about the policy, Henry said N95-type respirator masks aren't needed for most law enforcement. 

"I believe there are very few cases where a police officer would need to wear a respirator," she said.

"For the most part, they are not involved in resuscitating people and there are many other types of masks that can be used safely for other types of activities that police officers are involved in."

In a statement, the RCMP said bearded officers can return to operational duties with appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE).

About the Author

Alex Migdal

Journalist

Alex Migdal is a journalist with CBC News in Vancouver. He's previously reported for The Globe and Mail, Guelph Mercury and Edmonton Journal. You can reach him at alex.migdal@cbc.ca.

With files from Justin McElroy

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