Anxiety around the spread of the novel coronavirus in the classroom can be eased, school and medical officials reassured parents Wednesday, Sept. 23, in a Vernon School District meeting.
Some parents, students and even staff, have been concerned about the return to class, but Interior Health medical health officer Dr. Karin Goodison said schools are the best place for kids to be at this time.
“Schools are healthy,” Goodison said. “We have good evidence that schools are healthy places.”
She says this not just based on facts, but also because she too has a child in the public school system.
“As a parent I feel very confident in the system that is in place,” said Goodison, who has a child at Kalamalka Secondary.
“Children are at low risk at both catching COVID-19 and spreading COVID-19,” Goodison said.
The Interior Health region has had a total of 515 positive cases since the start of the pandemic, 31 are active cases in hospital as of Wednesday, Sept. 23.
“We’re getting approximately four cases a day,” Goodison said.
“Only two per cent tested for symptoms compatible with COVID are positive.”
The highest risk is party environments, where food and beverages are shared and people are gathering in large groups.
Whereas the environmental transmission of COVID-19 on books and surfaces at schools is low, Goodison said.
Plus, local school districts are going above and beyond to clean and disinfect surfaces, having hired extra staff and putting extra control measures in place.
“Schools are safe places,” Vernon School District’s assistant director of HR Erica Schmidt said.
“I’m very confident that the schools are a safe place, not just for my kids but your kids as well,” Schmidt said, who is also a mother.
Vernon in particular has had few cases, 21 in total between January and July 31.
“For children and youth, they aren’t as high risk as adults are,” said Schmidt. “Less than one per cent of children tested in B.C. have been COVID-19 positive so we know that it impacts adults more than children.”
When it comes to young children, some of the rules are a little different. For example, social distancing becomes more difficult with young kids, as well as enforcing masks, which is why masks are only mandatory for Grades 6-12.
A younger child may not be able to put a mask on and take it off appropriately, Goodison explained.
“If a mask is there and bothering them they are actually going to touch their face more and increase the risk of transmission.”
Yet, many young students are still wearing masks, as Vernon School District superintendent Joe Rogers saw on a recent bus ride along.
“Every kid, even the little ones, were wearing masks,” Rogers said, adding the district encourages all students to wear masks on the bus and in spaces where social distancing is not possible such as hallways and cafeterias.
A few of the other changes include not using lockers in high schools, cohorts (maximums of 60 in elementary schools and 120 for high schools), the Copernican or quarterly system, portable hand washing stations at portables, cleaning and sanitizing buses between routes and hiring more custodial staff to clean and disinfect schools. Such control measures could remain commonplace for the entire school year.
“We will likely be in this until next September,” Rogers said.
Goodison echoed the superintendent’s remarks.
“We anticipate making this our new normal,” she said. “We may change in three months time and that’s because we are learning.”
Approximately 95 per cent of students returned to school this year while there was increase to VLearn (online education).
“About 400 more kids have signed up for VLearn than last year,” said Rogers, noting 10 teachers were added to support the increase.