The School District 91’s (SD 91) District Parent Advisory Council (DPAC) hosted a virtual town hall event with Northern Health (NH), to tackle questions around COVID-19 and to understand what lies ahead especially vaccines having arrived in the province.
The town hall was held on Jan 28. online, and was attended by over 50 parents, guardians and staff along with SD 91 Superintendent Manu Madhok, NH regional nursing lead for children and youth Sarah Brown, the regional nursing lead for healthy schools Petrina Bryant and Dr. Rakel Kling, the medical health officer.
The town hall, which was more of a presentation from the NH representatives, also had a Q&A session towards the end, with questions that were submitted to the school district in advance.
NH took the attendees through the B.C. COVID Dashboard, how contact tracing is done in schools, what steps the public health takes when following up with confirmed cases and close contacts, how the health authority collaborates with schools and other health leaders and what the difference between cases and clusters is.
After their presentation, Madhok asked the NH representatives 10 questions compiled by the school district.
Questions like, testing protocols and whether school educators, bus drivers, assistants, staff are a priority for testing and having results fast tracked, to understanding the long-term impact of hand sanitizers on kids, the NH and the school board tackled several questions.
According to NH, at this moment, there are no groups of people who take precedence over others for testing or having their results fast-tracked and if anyone experiences COVID-19 symptoms, they are eligible for testing. They also said that the employees of school would fit in phase three or four of the province’s immunization plan.
When asked why the names of students who test positive are not shared with the school staff despite the staff being in the best position to help with contact tracing, NH said that in B.C., everyone is entitled to confidentiality to their personal health information and when privacy is breached, an individual’s rights are compromised, and they may suffer from stigmatization.
“When people observe that others’ privacy has been breached, they may be reluctant to seek testing themselves, and unfortunately this has already been observed many times during the pandemic,” said Bryant, adding that NH would continue to be transparent with information on public exposures and school exposures while respecting the individuals’ right to privacy.
The representatives also explained the process from identifying a positive school COVID-19 case to contact tracing and communication to school, and discussed the importance of wearing masks.
Dr. Kling also addressed a few questions, the last of which was around the increasing anxiety among families with respect to their kids’ safety especially with the increase in the number of COVID-19 cases in the community.
“It is a difficult decision for many parents to decide what’s the best decision to do for themselves, their children and their families; whether to send children to school or not. But there is no safe environment anywhere right now and we have to assume that COVID is out there, it is everywhere and is circulating and because we know there is COVID in our communities, we have to expect that there will be cases in schools,” she said, adding that while the community needs to accept that it would be normal to expect a few cases, that made it more important to follow all COVID-19 protocols.
“The goal isn’t to prevent every infection but it is to reduce the risk to something that’s manageable so that we can maintain these day-to-day functions as seamlessly as possible,” said Dr. Kling.
Towards the end of the town hall, Madhok assured that the entire virtual event was recorded and would be shared with parents, staff and members of the public through the SD 91 website.