COVID-19 in B.C.: An open letter to Adrian Dix and Jennifer Whiteside as schools are about to open
The following open letter from Protect Our Province B.C. and allies to Minister of Health Adrian Dix and Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside was received by the Straight on August 29 and is reprinted below in its entirety.
Dear Minister Adrian Dix and Minister Jennifer Whiteside:
Roughly half a million students are set to return to British Columbian schools in a matter of weeks for their third Unsafe September. Each and every child deserves to be in school without getting sick. Each one deserves equitable access to their education. And each one deserves meaningful protection from COVID-19 (and now also monkeypox).
Schools are indoor congregate settings where children spend hours together with educators and other children. Each of them has their own social connections who are themselves connected to others in the community. Many B.C. schools have insufficient ventilation and classroom air quality, adding up to a perfect setting for COVID-19 transmission via aerosols across both short and longer distances.
We know what to do to prevent harm from happening. The federal government knows this and is providing B.C. with $11.9 million dollars as part of the Safe Return to Class Fund “to ensure the air in our classrooms is as clean as possible for students, teachers, and staff”.
With schools about to reopen, the time for the B.C. government to act is now.
The signatories of this letter have the following demands:
- Universal masking, with high quality masks, such as KN95 or better, to control COVID-19 at the source. High quality masks must be provided for free by the government to ensure equity of access and protection.
- Ventilation to keep the air flowing in classrooms so it is as clean, fresh and virus-free as possible. Cleaner air also means better cognitive function as well as prevention of other airborne diseases. The recently updated American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) Epidemic Taskforce guidance should be followed, including the use of tools to monitor air quality such as CO2 monitors, based on the advice of qualified professionals as per regulatory requirements.
- HEPA filtration in every classroom as an added layer to catch harmful particles within classroom air, from viral particles to wildfire smoke.
- Test, Trace, and Isolate policies that are based on airborne spread and include 'test to exit' strategies for those infected, to reduce the introduction of COVID-19 into schools in the first place.
- Classroom COVID-19 notifications to allow parents/ guardians to make fully informed risk assessments for their children and families.
- Equitable remote options for children who are at high risk, or those who live with at-risk family members, to allow them to access education, a human right, without risking their health (which is also a human right).
- Support for parents/ guardians by addressing their concerns and making it easier for them to get their children vaccinated and boosted. This will lower the risk of transmission, infection and long-term illness.
As an added bonus, putting all of these layers in place to reduce school and community transmission means that parents will miss less work due to infection, won’t have to isolate with sick children at home, and won’t bring COVID-19 into their workplaces, which benefits everyone and the economy.
Also, planning needs to start now to provide adequate resources to support online learning for students who are isolating, and revisit appropriate learning-group sizes to allow distancing to reduce the risk of close-range aerosol transmission during this COVID-19 pandemic.
It is long past time for the government of British Columbia and B.C. public health leadership to start following the best available science to protect the residents of B.C., especially our youngest and most vulnerable.
Our children should not be repeatedly exposed to and infected with a novel virus. Avoiding COVID-19 infection is the best way to ensure a future full of potential and free from (further) disability for all our children.
The B.C. government must accept the reality of how COVID-19 spreads through aerosols; the reality that children do get infected and, in turn, infect their families and communities; the reality that our schools are presently ill-prepared to prevent the spread of this infection; and the reality that COVID-19, a novel virus, can harm our children.
Minister Dix, Minister Whiteside, and the entire B.C. NDP caucus: you have within your power the ability to protect our children and prevent harm from occurring.
The time to act is now, for the sake of B.C.’s children, their families, school staff, and all workplaces and communities within the province.
Protect Our Province B.C., including:
Dr. Lyne Filiatrault, retired Emergency Physician
Dr. Brenda Hardie, Family Physician, Clinical Assistant Professor, UBC Faculty of Medicine
Dr. Susan Kuo, Family Physician, Clinical Assistant Professor, UBC Faculty of Medicine
Dr. Karina Zeidler, family physician, clinical instructor, UBC Faculty of Medicine, cofounder of Protect Our Province B.C., Trustee Candidate for Vancouver School Board with Vote Socialist municipal party
Safe Schools Coalition B.C., including:
Victoria Chung, parent
Jennifer Heighton, BSc (Physics), Teacher, cofounder Protect Our Province B.C.
Tom Jackman, parent and disability rights advocate
Nathalie Kos, DMD, parent
Annie Ohana, Indigenous Department Head, Surrey School teacher
Karen Tsang, Vancouver DPAC
B.C. School Covid Tracker
Kathy Marliss, parent
Andrea Roszmann, parent
UBC Covid Tracker
Canadian Aerosol Transmission Coalition, including:
Stephane Bilodeau, Eng., Ph.D., Fellow Engineers Canada, Coordinator, Indoor Air Quality Task Force, World Health Network, Lecturer, Bioengineering Department, McGill University
Alec Farquhar, retired Occupational Health and Safety Regulator
Ziad Fazel, BASc, DipAdmin, P.Eng.
Laurence Svirchev, MA, BS, CIH, Svirchev OHS Management Systems
Dorothy Wigmore, MS, Occupational hygienist
Other Individual signatories:
Dr David Berger, Remote Emergency GP, Australia
Astrid Brousselle Professor and Director, School of Public Administration, University of Victoria
Tracy Casavant, BASc (Chml), MES
Damien Contandriopoulos, Professor, School of Nursing, University of Victoria
Irene Corman, M.A. educator, Retired Associate Superintendent of Schools
Mauricio Drelichman, Associate Professor, University of British Columbia
Rob DuMont, Data Insights Analyst.
Jaclyn Ferreira, Rare Disease and Disability Advocate
Dr. David Fisman, MPH, Professor of Epidemiology at University of Toronto, Lead of the Pandemic Readiness Stream at the University of Toronto Institute for Pandemics
Dr. David M. Forrest, Infectious diseases and critical care medicine, Nanaimo Regional General Hospital
Colin Furness PhD MPH, Infection Control Epidemiologist
Dr. Malgorzata Gasperowicz, Developmental Biologist, University of Calgary
Lauren Goldman, RN
Dr. James Heilman, MD, BC Emergency Physician
Amanda Hu, BA, BFA, NCT
Dr. Rob James, PhD (Epidemiology)
José-Luis Jimenez; Distinguished Prof., Dept. of Chemistry & Biochemistry, CIRES Fellow, University of Colorado
Andrew Longhurst, MA, Health Policy Researcher & PhD Candidate, Department of Geography, Simon Fraser University
Steve Morgan, PhD. Professor, School of Population and Public Health, University of British Columbia
Dr. Tara Moriarty, Associate Professor, University of Toronto, Faculty of Dentistry, Matrix Dynamics Group, Faculty of Medicine, Department of Laboratory Medicine & Pathobiology
M.B. Oliver, CD, P.Eng.
Dr. Sarah (Sally) Otto, FRSC, Director, Liber Ero Fellowship Program,
University Killam Professor, Department of Zoology, University of British Columbia
Kimberly A. Prather, Ph.D. Director, NSF Center for Aerosol Impacts on Chemistry of the Environment,Distinguished Professor, Distinguished Chair in Atmospheric Chemistry, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla
Dr. Manya Sadouski, Family Physician
James Andrew Smith, PhD, P.Eng, Associate Professor, York University
Dr. Amy Tan, MSc CCFP (Palliative Care) FCFP