P.E.I. Home and School Federation not concerned by growing list of COVID-19 exposures
More than 70% of Island schools have now had possible exposures, a week and a half into reopening
The P.E.I. Home and School Federation says the growing list of possible COVID-19 exposures in Island schools since last week's reopening doesn't appear to be causing much concern among parents.
As of Wednesday, 44 of the province's 62 schools have reported possible exposures, meaning students or staff were possibly infectious while in school. However, to date, those exposures haven't led to outbreaks or closures.
"We fully expected we'd see exposures in the schools, understanding that we went into going back to school with community spread," said Heather Mullen, the federation's president.
"I'm not too alarmed as a parent. Until we start hearing about outbreaks, I guess that's a different story."
In the weeks before schools reopened, the federation did hear concerns from some parents about the safety of returning to class, given the large number of COVID-19 cases in the community, fuelled by the easily transmissible Omicron variant.
The P.E.I. Teachers' Federation expressed concerns as well, just days ahead of classes resuming.
But since the reopening, despite the large number of exposures, Mullen said the federation hasn't heard much feedback.
"If people were very concerned or upset, our phone usually starts ringing, or our board members hear from people," she said. "So it's been pretty quiet … and everything seems to be going according to the guidelines."
Under those guidelines, students and staff are required to take at-home rapid tests three times a week, to wear masks in class and to stay in smaller cohorts when possible.
Measures effective so far
Mullen said at least so far, those measures appear to be working.
"I think as we roll into the second week, we're starting to understand that better. It's like 'oh we had an exposure, but the whole school didn't get sick,' or 'my kids are OK.'"
All the layers of protection we do have in place appear to be working.— Norbert Carpenter
As of Monday, the majority of the schools with COVID-19 cases are reporting between one and three cases, the CPHO said. As of Feb. 8, 89 students and 11 staff have tested positive among those schools.
There is no evidence of outbreaks, the CPHO release said. Cases were expected following the end of a two-week circuit breaker on Jan. 31.
"Given that COVID-19 is circulating in our province and the community transmission, it is not unexpected to have cases in school aged children."
Norbert Carpenter, P.E.I. Public Schools Branch director, agrees that measures so far have been effective.
"I would say all the measures, all the layers of protection we do have in place appear to be working, because we have been able to operate for close to two weeks," he said.
The rapid test procedures taking place at homes, have flagged a lot of potential cases and helped stop larger spread at schools.
About 13 per cent of students have been absent this week, compared to the usual 10 per cent at this time of year. That rate is no cause for alarm, Carpenter said.
"Our absentee rates are higher than we'd like, but they're not at a level of extreme worry."
The P.E.I. Teachers' Federation had raised concerns about teachers staying away from schools due to outbreaks. Carpenter said finding substitute teachers hasn't been a challenge, so far.
"We have been able to cover the absences we've been seeing so far. So far we've been able to open every school since we've been back We're confident that trend will continue," he said.
With files from Steve Bruce