Northern Health COVID testing. (Priyanka Ketkar photo/Lakes District News)

COVID-19 exposure reported at Decker Lake Elementary school

Northern Health explains why the school received a two-week delayed notification

Decker Lake Elementary school had a lab-confirmed COVID case between Dec. 3 and 4 and the school was informed of this on Dec. 14.

When asked about the substantial delay in informing the school about this exposure, Eryn Collins, the media representative for Northern Health said, “For lab confirmed cases with a connection to a school community (teachers, staff or students), NH Public Health does issue a notification letter to the school/district, for distribution to school community members. It’s important to note that there is a turnaround time that involves the person noticing their symptoms, getting tested and receiving results, and contact tracing taking place; only then can a notification of a potential exposure be issued, if one is needed. For this reason, the time it may take to issue a letter, varies.”

In the letter that Decker Lake Elementary posted on their website and sent home with kids, they say that Northern Health Authority informed the principal of Decker Lake Elementary School that students and staff may have been in contact with a lab-confirmed case of COVID-19 on Dec. 3- 4, 2020.

Collins said that most people received their results directly by text message from the BC Centre for Disease Control and they may – but are not obliged to – share that result immediately with anyone they wish to inform. “As a result, individuals and in some cases, their communities may become aware of their results and/or hear of new cases or potential contacts much sooner than the process of issuing a notification can be completed,” she said.

A surge in COVID-19 cases is straining Northern Health’s case management and contact tracing resources. In a statement, Collins had said that the health authority was narrowing the scope of its contact tracing to accommodate the strain, while also deploying additional staff to case management and contact tracing teams.

“Currently, contact tracing includes public health identifying and directly notifying all close contacts of every confirmed case,” the spokesperson said.

Northern Health is shifting to focusing contact tracing efforts. Only close contacts in “certain situations” will be contacted, such as cases related to industrial projects, cases in First Nations communities and anyone who is part of a known cluster or outbreak. Health care workers will also still be contacted.

“This will ensure public health can respond quickly to developing clusters of cases or potential outbreaks for those that are most vulnerable,” the spokesperson said.

The strain is also leading to delays in notifications of positive test results in the region.

“Contact tracing work is a detailed, rigorous process that involves several steps. We make every effort to complete this process as quickly as possible,” said Collins.

As of Thursday, B.C. had recorded another 673 diagnosed cases of COVID-19, with 21 deaths of mainly elderly people in long-term care. The trend continued from recent days, with 403 cases determined in the Fraser Health region, 145 in Vancouver Coastal, 66 in Interior Health, 47 in Northern Health and four on Vancouver Island.

“Rates of COVID-19 activity in the North during this second wave mean that all residents, whether or not they are known close contacts of a lab-confirmed COVID case should be diligently following public health advice and orders, closely self monitoring for symptoms, and seeking testing if symptoms develop,” said Collins.

The Decker Lake Elementary COVID-19 exposure incident is the ninth such incident since November 20, in School District 91.

Priyanka Ketkar
Multimedia journalist

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