Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry answers questions during a press conference to update on the province’s fall pandemic preparedness plan from the press theatre at Legislature in Victoria, Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

B.C.’s top doctor says most COVID-19 exposures at schools have been low risk

Ministry of Health removes some symptoms for children, but there are still symptoms to test for

B.C.’s provincial health officer says most COVID-19 exposure events at schools have been low risk and there has not been any transmission within schools so far.

Dr. Bonnie Henry says a low-risk exposure could mean an infected person was at a school for a short period of time while wearing a mask or they didn’t have symptoms or close contact with others.

“Even if you are in a classroom with somebody who has COVID, if you’re sitting at a desk and you’re not close to them, you’ve not had close contact with them,” Henry said at a news conference on Monday.

Most of the school exposure events to date are related to cases in adults, she added, and mechanisms are in place to investigate and manage each individual case and exposure.

“Any time a child or a teacher or a staff person or a bus driver tests positive … those people who have contact where transmission could possibly have occurred are identified by public health. Most people are not in that situation,” she said.

Henry said it’s “probable” that B.C. will at some point see an outbreak at a school, which would be declared if transmission occurred between people in different classrooms or groups.

The province also decided to remove certain symptoms from the daily health checklist for schools and parents earlier this month, which Henry said public health officials recommended given the low probability that they would be a sign of a COVID-19 infection on their own.

“If you have a slight runny nose by itself then, that in and of itself is not a reason for a child, and we’re talking about children here, to necessarily stay home from school,” she said.

“It’s a balancing act to make sure that children are able to attend school as much as possible and minimizing the risk that they pose.”

In an email, the Ministry of Health said if someone has any of those symptoms in combination with symptoms that remain on the checklist, they should be tested for the illness. Some of the removed symptoms are common in children, so there were concerns that kids could be unnecessarily excluded from school, the email said.

The symptoms removed from school-related health checks are sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, headache, fatigue, loss of appetite, muscle aches, conjunctivitis, dizziness or confusion, abdominal pain and skin rashes or discolouration of fingers or toes.

Symptoms that remain on the checklist are fever, chills, cough or a worsening chronic cough, shortness of breath, loss of the sense of smell or taste, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting.

The narrower list is reflected in the province’s guidelines for kindergarten to Grade 12 schools updated on Sept. 11, which direct parents to assess their kids for certain symptoms every day before sending them to school.

The Fraser Health Authority’s website lists at least 25 exposures involving more than 10 schools in Surrey as of Sunday. There has also been one reported exposure at Delta Secondary School.

Fraser Health defines an exposure as “a single person with lab-confirmed COVID-19 infection who attended school during their infectious period.”

The Interior Health website lists a student case at an elementary school in Invermere and also at a high school in Castlegar, while Northern Health has reported two exposure events at Quesnel Junior Secondary School and Ecole Frank Ross Elementary.

The Vancouver Coastal Health and Island Health websites do not show any reported exposures.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Brenna Owen, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

CoronavirusEducation

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

RCMP. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
Princeton man on motor scooter refuses to provide breath test to police

The scooter did not have a license plate and was not insured

In this file photo, snow is seen falling along the Coquihalla Highway. (Liam Harrap/Revelstoke Review)
Weather statement issued for Coquihalla, Hwy 3, as arctic front approaches

The early season snowfall expected to hit Fraser Valley, Friday, Oct. 23

RCMP. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media file)
No reported injuries in Highway 3 rollover

Traffic interrupted for three hours

File photo
EDITORIAL: The power of a single vote

In the Oct. 24 British Columbia election, every vote is important

RCMP stock photo (Black Press)
Kelowna RCMP investigating unexplained death of cattle

Cattle found dead near gravel road, east of the Kelowna Airport

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry presents modelling of COVID-19 spread in B.C., March 25, 2020. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. sets another COVID-19 record with 203 new cases

up to 1,766 active cases in B.C., two more deaths

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

(Kelowna Capital News)
B.C. Labour Board orders Peachland cannabis company to reinstate laid-off employees

The B.C. Labour Relations Board determined the employees were laid off due to their plan to unionize

RCMP. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
British Columbia man dies during ski trip near glacier west of Calgary

Kananaskis Public Safety and Alpine Helicopters responded around 2:30 p.m.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrives on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday, Oct. 19, 2020, following a week-long break for the House of Commons. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
One crisis after another for Trudeau since last federal election one year ago

It has been a year of unprecedented calamity and crisis

Curtis Sagmoen
Public warning issued to North Okanagan sex trade workers

RCMP warns workers to stay away from Salmon River Road area

Two pigs roam the Salmon Arm Walmart parking lot during a prior visit photographed by Danielle Burgi. (Danielle Burgi photo)
Pigs trot over for a visit at Salmon Arm shopping centre

Employees say this was the second drop-in from the temporarily free-range porkers

Penticton law courts. (Black Press file)
Osoyoos man in court for alleged shooting

The Oct. 11 shooting left a man with non-life threatening injuries

Most Read