School exposures continue as district answers questions from parents

A virtual town hall event held last week allowed administrators to address questions over how SD73 is handling COVID-19 in its schools

School exposures in Kamloops have continued, with additional exposures at South Kamloops secondary last week, but at an overall slower pace than prior weeks.

Interior Health is reporting seven days of exposures at South Kamloops secondary after a member of the school community tested positive for COVID-19.

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In a letter to students' families, principal Walt Kirschner said potential exposures were on Feb. 4, Feb. 5 and from Feb. 8 to Feb. 12.

The health authority is conducting contact tracing, determining the person's close contacts and those who may have been exposed. Interior Health will contact those affected directly and advise them to self-isolate.

Three exposure events were previously reported at the school in early January.

Other current exposure notices include Sa-Hali secondary (Feb. 5), Valleyview secondary (Feb. 4), Juniper Ridge elementary (Feb. 3) and Lloyd George elementary (Feb. 3 and Feb. 4).

Meanwhile, SD73 administrators and a Kamloops-based medical health officer answered parents' questions at a virtual town hall event, which was held on Thursday, Feb. 11.

Questions revolved around how schools report exposures, Interior Health's involvement in the process and student health.

Figures provided by SD73 superintendent Terry Sullivan show 5.5 per cent of the district's 14,014 students and 2.2 per cent of 2,097 staff have been required to self-isolate due to potential exposure to COVID-19 at one point or another.

The vast majority of those exposure events — 42 over 69 days in session — occurred after Christmas, compared to the 28 days in session before Christmas, when just five exposures were reported.

Fenton graphic school exposures
This image from Kamloops-based medical health officer Dr. Carol Fenton shows how there can be lag time between when a child or staff member at a school becomes sick and when potential exposures are reported as a result. It was presented at a virtual town hall meeting held on Thursday, Feb. 11.

One person asked how the notification process worked, worried about lag time between when someone at school is tested positive and when parents are notified of potential exposures. Kamloops-based medical health officer Dr. Carol Fenton provided an example of how the process typically unfolds.

If, on Day 1, a person unknowingly contracts COVID-19, they are typically infectious starting on Day 3, leading to school contacts being exposed over a few days before symptoms arise on Day 5.

On Day 6, the person is tested and receives a positive test result sometime within 24 hours, with a school case investigation beginning as soon as results are received on Day 7. Notification letters are then sent by the district to families on Day 8, as the investigation continues.

Sullivan said there were also questions on what it means to have an exposure, a cluster and an outbreak.

Fenton explained that an exposure has occurred when a person attended a school during their infectious period and was physically close enough to others to spread the virus. An outbreak, meanwhile, is when there is ongoing transmission without known sources and additional resources are needed to investigate. A cluster, she said, is somewhere between an outbreak and an exposure, where additional resources are needed, but not to the extent of an outbreak.

Sullivan was also asked if the school board had a plan in place should the province order a change to the March break, potentially moving it to April, as Ontario did last week in the face of emerging COVID-19 variant cases.

Sullivan said he would defer to health officials, when it comes to closures and schedule changes.

COVID-19 response committee chair Trish Smillie said the district has operations plans in place for the province's various stages of re-opening.

"We should be able to pivot very quickly through the guidelines from the district level out to schools," Smillie said.

The district also posted the townhall in its entirety on YouTube, available here.

© Kamloops This Week



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