Leaked VSB document recommends against use of masks, gloves, and gowns in dealing with kids with complex needs

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      In normal times, K-12 educators face challenges in dealing with children with complex needs and behavioural problems.

      But that can be magnified during a pandemic when the consequences can be deadly.

      This is particularly so for teachers and aides with compromised immune systems, including cancer survivors and those with heart disease or diabetes.

      Yet despite these health concerns, a 21-page Vancouver school board document recommends against the use of personal protective equipment—including masks, gloves, and gowns—for staff in the educational sector. (See the PDF link at the left of this article if you're reading this article on a desktop computer.)

      The document, which was leaked to the Georgia Straight, purports that there is "no benefit from wearing masks in public settings or in schools".

      Elsewhere, it states that physical distancing "is not an expectation in a childcare or K-12 educational setting".

      In contrast, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people wear cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.

      "The cloth face coverings recommended are not surgical masks or N-95 respirators," the CDC emphasizes on its website. "Those are critical supplies that must continue to be reserved for healthcare workers and other medical first responders, as recommended by current CDC guidance."

      The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers instructions on its website for how to create a cloth mask.
      U.S. CDC

      Spitting risk deemed low for asymptomatic kids

      Additional School and Childcare Safety Protocols for Working with Children with Complex Needs (COVID-19) also states that masks are not recommended for children unless advised by a health-care provider.

      "In young children in particular, masks can be irritating and may lead to increased touching of the face and eyes," it says.

      Under "Spitting Recommendations", the document acknowledges that this behaviour is "challenging". 

      Then it adds: "if the student is asymptomatic and healthy, the risk of transmission is low, especially if the behaviour is paired with handwashing and cleaning."

      In fact, asymptomatic transmission of COVID-19 has been deemed a serious problem by researchers. It was even described as the "Achilles' heel" of current control strategies in a recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine.

      That's due to the high-level of shedding of the virus in the upper respiratory tract, even in presymptomatic patients.

      Yet the VSB document states that no additional personal protective equipment is required by those working in the educational sector "unless identified on a case by case basis by the health authority".

      The document also says that face masks are not required for rendering first aid if there are no flulike symptoms.

      If a student begins to show flulike symptoms, certified first aid attendants should remain two meters away and "discreetly" move the person to a private isolation room and alert the principal or supervisor.

      The Vancouver School Board's document makes no accommodation for staff who may have compromised immune systems due to cancer, diabetes, heart disease, multiple sclerosis, or other conditions.

      Vancouver Coastal Health reviewed document

      Additional School and Childcare Safety Protocols for Working with Children with Complex Needs (COVID-19) was originally developed by the Langley school district in cooperation with others, including Fraser Health Authority.

      The document states that Vancouver Coastal Health has reviewed this adapted version for use in its jurisdiction, which includes Vancouver, Richmond, the North Shore, Sunshine Coast, and Sea to Sky corridor. 

      It also claims that COVID-19 has "a very low infection rate in children", estimated at one to five percent worldwide.

      But this statement does not acknowledge that many countries, provinces, and states have not been testing representative samples of the populations, preferring to focus diagnostic efforts on health-care workers and those deemed to be at higher risk.

      In addition, the document states that there's "no conclusive evidence that children who are asymptomatic pose a risk to other children or to adults". 

      It correctly notes that children infected with the novel coronavirus have milder symptoms, if any. And a very low number of them become critically ill.

      According to WorkSafe B.C., employees have "the right to refuse work if they believe it presents an undue hazard".

      "In those circumstances, employers need to consider the refusal on a case-by-case basis, depending on the situation," WorkSafe B.C. states on its website. "For more information, see Occupational Health and Safety Guideline G3.12."