Interior Health prepared for COVID-19 breakouts in schools

Established testing and tracing protocols have already proven effective

Interior Health wants to offer a reassuring message for parents sending their kids back to school next week – ‘we have your back’.

Dr. Silvena Mema, Interior Health’s medical health officer, says public health protocols are in place to minimize any risk students might face in the classroom.

And, the healthy authority is well prepared to address any situation where a staff member or student registers a COVID positive test.

“We have had to deal with outbreaks (in the Central Okanagan) already and we have a track record now for controlling the spread…we have learned a lot about how to deal with cluster outbreaks,” she said.

“That Kelowna has been able to flatten the curve when cases have occurred speaks well for our community,” continued Mema.

“My own kids are 11 and eight, and I want them to go to school for their own social and emotional well-being. School is not going to be the same and we have to learn to live with some degree of risk because of the pandemic.

But, with that risk, there is also a lot we can do with prevention to minimize it.”

Mema echoes the sentiments expressed continually by Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s provincial medical health officer, to be calm, be safe and be kind.

READ MORE: Community COVID-19 outbreaks declared over

READ MORE: West Kelowna business site of COVID-19 outbreak

Mema says all public safety measures adopted by the school district have been signed off on by public health, ministry of education and the health authority.

She stressed that parents ultimately play a significant role in protecting their child’s health, from monitoring their kids’ health for symptoms to educating them about following public health safety protocols, which will also be reinforced at school, and contacting Interior Health (IH) to determine if their kids need to be tested if they’re showing symptoms of being sick.

IH will be ready for positive cases in directing schools on how to respond if a student or staff person tests positive.

Mema said when a COVID test is warranted, the results come back within 48-hours, during which time the student, or staff member, will be required to remain at home under self-quarantine.

If the test is positive, IH will launch a tracing initiative to determine the best policy moving forward for the school in each case and thoroughly investigate who the individual had contact within the two days leading up to the test.

The student will also be required to self-quarantine for 10 days while their symptoms will be monitored in case further health care steps are needed.

In previous cases IH has responded to, tracing has been an effective tool to help bring COVID clusters under control, identifying the people potentially infected and having them tested rather than invoke widespread closures or quarantine orders

“What we learned with an outbreak on an Interior farm is that we isolated those who tested positive, and allowed the other workers to continue working on the site and it was a success,” she recalled.

She cautioned that students likely catching COVID will be infected by adults, reflecting what schools face with COVID is a reflection of how the greater community is coping with the pandemic.

“So where COVID is low in a given community, that is expected to be reflected in local schools. If the infection rate is high, then expect the same potential for schools,” she said.

For more information about IH COVID-19 testing, check out the website https://news.interiorhealth.ca/news/testing-information/.

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