Slow COVID transmission rate allowing B.C. schools to reopen

Kids are back in school Monday and for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic was declared on March 17  and B.C. kindergarten-Grade 12 students will get to see their teachers and fellow classmates in class, one or two days a week for the remainder of the school year.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry is encouraged by the slow spread of transmission of the virus the past two weeks and that’s the reason schools will be allowed to open as planned on June 1 - two weeks after the Phase 2 restart which lifted restrictions to allow stores, restaurants and other businesses to reopen.

“We purposely timed the reopening of schools to be sure we had a period of time of an incubation  period to see if we were going to start seeing increased numbers in our community once we restarted our restart program,” said Henry at Saturday’s media update in Victoria.

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“If we had seen an increase, we would have postponed or delayed the start of school. So I am comfortable with what we’ve been watching that we are in place that we can do this now. It is important for us to start this voluntary in-class instruction now to support those children and families now who need it.”

“We are ready for this and we are reopening schools because we believe it is safe to do so. We have learned a lot about COVID-19, where the greatest risks are, where the measures we can take to protect ourselves… and it’s working. My team and the team in public health has been working with many people in our education system and we have confidence the protections we’ve put in place in schools across this province are the appropriate ones and ones that will keep us all safe.”

Henry reminded that children have a low incidence of COVID-19 infection, with just 77 of the 2,573 confirmed cases in the province in people under the age of 19 (less than one per cent), and that children mostly have milder symptoms. She said most child cases of COVID come from household contact with an infected adult.  

B.C. has been monitoring the situation in Quebec, where, as of Friday, 19 students and 22 adult staff members had become infected in the first two weeks since schools there reopened on May 11.

“It was not unexpected in Quebec that small numbers of people would bring the virus into the classroom and that it might have some spread, and they were prepared for that,” said Henry. “That is a very small number over the number of people who have returned to classes in Quebec. Most often, it was an adult who brought the virus into the situation, which is why we have to be so vigilant about any risks me might have coming in contact with COVID.

“I would not be surprised if we had one or two cases perhaps arise in our schools in the coming weeks. But that’s OK. We know how to deal with this. We know that it is not easily spread and we know we can prevent it by putting in place the measures we have in our schools. Monday and Tuesday are going to be very fun days for kids but it’s also going to be a little anxiety-provoking for all of us.”

In B.C., 11 additional cases over the previous day were reported, including one in the Northern Health region. That brings the total to 64 in northern B.C. since the pandemic was declared in mid-March. Fraser Health has had 1,285 cases, Vancouver Coastal Health has 902, Interior Health has 195 and Vancouver Island Health has 127. There were no new deaths to add to Friday’s total of 164.

Henry made reference to two family outdoor gatherings in Saskatoon earlier this week which led to an outbreak of four confirmed cases and said right now B.C. is not considering increasing its limit on crowd sizes beyond the current 50 people. She said increased crowds sizes increase the risk of transmission.

“We need to make sure we don’t give this virus a chance to resurge,” Henry said. “We don’t want to put aside the sacrifices we’ve all made and undo the progress we’ve made.”

She also explained why the province enacted a new order to ban overnight youth camps for the summer.

“Such camps often have large numbers of children coming from many different areas, campers and counsellors, and they often take place in remote areas and physical distancing is very much a challenge in these situations,” said Henry. “I know that’s a disappointment for many groups who are used to having that important part of your summer but I would encourage everybody to arrange day camps, where staying outside in smaller groups is far easier to do.”

There are 228 active cases in B.C. and 35 of which required hospital admission. Five COVID patients are being treated in critical or intensive care. Total recoveries from the virus have reached 2,181.

“In the last few days the numbers of new cases continue to stay low and this is the second week of our (Phase 2) restart,” said Henry. “That’s very encouraging, but these new cases continue to be our elders in care and there continues to be low but some spread in our community.

“This tells us we still need to be cautious and proceed with care and we need to keep doing what we are doing to prevent transmission. That is, staying away from others if we’re feeling unwell. Washing our hands regularly, covering our mouth when we cough. It means keeping that safe physical distance between us and limiting the contacts we have.”

There are 14 outbreaks  still active in log-term or assisted-living care facilities and one still ongoing in an acute-care facility. COVID-19 outbreaks were declared over in the Harold Park and Evergreen House seniors residences in the Lower Mainland. Three additional cases were reported over the previous day in care facilities, which brought the total to 340 residents and 214 staff.

Henry reminded that the deadline for the public survey, Your Story, Our Future, is midnight Monday morning, which will help the province understand the impacts the pandemic has had on residents. More than 340,000 people have filled out the BC Centre for Disease Control survey online at www.bccdc.ca  or by phone 1-833-707-1900.

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