British Columbia

Fraser Valley parents say more info needed on COVID-19 exposures in schools after dance academy outbreak

Fraser Health says timelines on contact tracing and exposure notification are highly variable and tracers can face a variety of obstacles. That leaves some parents with little confidence.

Fraser Health says schools are safer than other settings and transmission within schools is uncommon

Capella Dance Academy shut down voluntarily on Oct. 28. Fraser Health said Wednesday that 38 cases and 13 school exposure events have been connected to the dance academy. (Martin Diotte/CBC)

Fraser Valley parents like Katie Bartel say Fraser Health is not doing enough when it comes to sharing information about COVID-19 exposures in schools.

Two of Bartel's three daughters — Livi, in Grade 7, and Sofie, in Grade 6 — attend A. D. Rundle Middle School in Chilliwack and are in the same learning cohort.

Also in their cohort, Bartel said, is a student who tested positive for COVID-19 after attending Capella Dance Academy in Chilliwack, the site of a "superspreader" outbreak connected to 38 cases and 13 schools as of Wednesday.

Bartel said Livi attended classes with the student, a friend, Oct. 27 to 29.

On Oct. 30, the family received what she called a "vague" exposure notification that didn't say which cohort was affected or if it was a student or staff member infected.

Katie Bartel, centre, with her three children, Livi, top, Eveleyn, left, and Sofie, right. (Katie Bartel)

On Oct. 31, Livi's friend tested positive. The friend told others about the positive test Nov. 1. Bartel's kids weren't showing symptoms but began self-isolating as a precaution.

It wasn't until the late afternoon of Nov. 3, at least six days after the exposure, that Bartel said Fraser Health directed Livi to self-isolate. Then on Nov. 4, Sofie was directed to self-monitor.

Bartel believes Fraser Health should have said which cohort was exposed on Oct. 30 and on Nov. 1 should have told close contacts to keep kids home from school instead of putting the onus on parents to inform each other.

"That's a huge concern for me," Bartel said. "I just want to have the information as a parent to decide whether I'm going to be taking this extra risk now to be sending my child to school or make the choices to keep them home."

It's a concern shared by others in the Fraser Health region — which has led the province in active cases for weeks — and beyond.

Katie Bartel, right, in a photo with her daughter, Sofie. Bartel says she is particularly concerned about Sofie's health because she has immune system issues related to Down syndrome. (Katie Bartel)

'The virus dictates the timelines'

Chilliwack Coun. Jason Lum says he has heard "quite a bit of concern" about contact tracing and information sharing by Fraser Health.

People are asking questions: Who needs to be notified when exposures happen? How quickly? What protocols need to be followed by residents and businesses?

"I've got nothing but respect for the health-care professionals that have been leading us through the pandemic … This has been an extremely challenging situation," Lum said.

"There is room, here, for improvement, I think."

Dr. Victoria Lee, CEO of Fraser Health, said contact tracers often deal with language barriers, inaccurate contact info, people not answering phones and a fear of being stigmatized that causes people not to report key details.

"The virus dictates the timelines and guides how we issue notifications and confirmations and, if necessary, declare an outbreak," Lee said on a conference call with reporters.

'The measures that are there are working'

Kathy Marliss says the fact her Facebook page, B.C. School COVID Tracker, has over 26,000 followers is a sign parents across the province don't have enough information.

The page allows parents to post exposure notices from their kids' schools because Marliss feels officials aren't sharing them fast enough.

Marliss said parents were posting about school exposures connected to the dance academy outbreak "probably about a week" before health notices went out.

"Which is a big problem because that's the safety piece: being able to communicate and let people know so they can isolate," Marliss said.

She said these delays and a lack of transparency are hurting parents' confidence in sending their kids to school and their ability to make informed choices.

Dr. Elizabeth Brodkin, chief medical health officer for Fraser Health, said schools are safer than other settings when it comes to COVID-19.

While there have been many exposure events, few have resulted in transmission.

"The measures that are there are working and we will be keeping our schools open," Brodkin said.

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story incorrectly said that Fraser Health told Katie Bartel's entire family to self-isolate. In fact, the health authority only told her daughter Livi to self-isolate. The Bartel children’s grades have also been corrected.
    Nov 05, 2020 9:44 AM PT

With files from Joel Ballard

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