After students returned to classrooms earlier this month, concerns and criticism have arisen about the approach that one regional health authority in B.C. was taking for informing the public about COVID-19 cases in schools.
All regional health authorities began listing all confirmed cases at schools on their websites, with one exception.
Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) was reportedly not listing all schools that had cases, as news reports arose of four other schools that weren’t included on VCH’s list.
In addition to the previous listed Sentinel Secondary in West Vancouver, there is one new school listed on their website: Xpey’ Elementary in Vancouver, with potential exposure dates on September 10, 14, 15, and 21.
VCH was reportedly only listing cases where all close contacts of a confirmed case could not be reached or identified. The VCH region covers Richmond, Vancouver, the North Shore, the Sunshine Coast, the Sea to Sky corridor, Powell River, Bella Bella, and Bella Coola.
This approach, diverging from a provincewide policy that B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry confirmed was to be expected of VCH, raised concerns from parents, teachers, and other involved.
Today (September 24), VCH chief medical health officer Dr. Patricia Daly issued a joint statement with Henry in response to the concerns.
Here is the statement in full:
Being a parent in a pandemic comes with a lot of challenges and public health officials are here to help.
Public health has a long history of working collaboratively to promote and protect the health of our school communities. Like every year, we will support our teachers and education staff to make this return to school successful.
The robust school safety plans currently in place across the province are designed to minimize the transmission of COVID-19 in school settings.
VCH Public Health teams actively monitor and trace cases of COVID-19 in schools on a 24/7 basis. Our immediate priority for every known case is to identify people who have been their close contacts during the infectious period, to notify these contacts and then to ensure that all contacts are following the appropriate public health directions for self-isolation.
Whether in schools or in other settings, VCH Public Health notifies all contacts of cases exposed to COVID-19 in the most direct manner possible. This is the most effective contact tracing practice—it allows Public Health to provide clear direction to those contacts while respecting patient confidentiality which is important for the effective management of the pandemic.
When there has been exposure of classrooms or cohorts of students and staff in a school setting, we work with the school administrator to quickly send an email and letter to notify the staff and students (or their parents) identified as contacts. VCH Public Health will follow-up directly with all contacts who receive a notification in order to provide further public health advice. All notifications to school administrators—including school exposure and outbreaks—are posted to the VCH school exposure webpage at http://www.vch.ca/covid-19/school-exposures.
Schools are part of our communities—and a safe community means a safe school. That is why we in public health will continue to promptly and appropriately respond to cases, clusters and outbreaks of COVID-19 to ensure our communities, and the schools in them, remain at low risk for COVID-19 transmission.
COVID-19 will be around for months to come—and public health officials will be here with us through it all.