Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry answers questions during a press conference to update on the province’s fall pandemic preparedness plan from the press theatre at Legislature in Victoria, Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

B.C.’s top doctor says most COVID-19 exposures at schools have been low risk

Ministry of Health removes some symptoms for children, but there are still symptoms to test for

B.C.’s provincial health officer says most COVID-19 exposure events at schools have been low risk and there has not been any transmission within schools so far.

Dr. Bonnie Henry says a low-risk exposure could mean an infected person was at a school for a short period of time while wearing a mask or they didn’t have symptoms or close contact with others.

“Even if you are in a classroom with somebody who has COVID, if you’re sitting at a desk and you’re not close to them, you’ve not had close contact with them,” Henry said at a news conference on Monday.

Most of the school exposure events to date are related to cases in adults, she added, and mechanisms are in place to investigate and manage each individual case and exposure.

“Any time a child or a teacher or a staff person or a bus driver tests positive … those people who have contact where transmission could possibly have occurred are identified by public health. Most people are not in that situation,” she said.

Henry said it’s “probable” that B.C. will at some point see an outbreak at a school, which would be declared if transmission occurred between people in different classrooms or groups.

The province also decided to remove certain symptoms from the daily health checklist for schools and parents earlier this month, which Henry said public health officials recommended given the low probability that they would be a sign of a COVID-19 infection on their own.

“If you have a slight runny nose by itself then, that in and of itself is not a reason for a child, and we’re talking about children here, to necessarily stay home from school,” she said.

“It’s a balancing act to make sure that children are able to attend school as much as possible and minimizing the risk that they pose.”

In an email, the Ministry of Health said if someone has any of those symptoms in combination with symptoms that remain on the checklist, they should be tested for the illness. Some of the removed symptoms are common in children, so there were concerns that kids could be unnecessarily excluded from school, the email said.

The symptoms removed from school-related health checks are sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, headache, fatigue, loss of appetite, muscle aches, conjunctivitis, dizziness or confusion, abdominal pain and skin rashes or discolouration of fingers or toes.

Symptoms that remain on the checklist are fever, chills, cough or a worsening chronic cough, shortness of breath, loss of the sense of smell or taste, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting.

The narrower list is reflected in the province’s guidelines for kindergarten to Grade 12 schools updated on Sept. 11, which direct parents to assess their kids for certain symptoms every day before sending them to school.

The Fraser Health Authority’s website lists at least 25 exposures involving more than 10 schools in Surrey as of Sunday. There has also been one reported exposure at Delta Secondary School.

Fraser Health defines an exposure as “a single person with lab-confirmed COVID-19 infection who attended school during their infectious period.”

The Interior Health website lists a student case at an elementary school in Invermere and also at a high school in Castlegar, while Northern Health has reported two exposure events at Quesnel Junior Secondary School and Ecole Frank Ross Elementary.

The Vancouver Coastal Health and Island Health websites do not show any reported exposures.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Brenna Owen, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

CoronavirusEducation

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Voters in Saanich North and the Islands, here lining up outside Sidney’s Mary Winspear Centre on the first day of advanced voting. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
It’s Election Day in B.C.: Here’s what you need to know to vote

B.C.’s snap election has already broken records for advance voter turnout, mail-in ballots

John Morrow photo
Barn catches fire near Abbotsford airport

Fire closes Mt. Lehman Road between Marshall Road and Abbotsford International Airport

file
One dead after fiery crash near Agassiz

Agassiz RCMP report a 56-year-old man died Friday night

The possibility of the Canadian Premier League expanding to the Fraser Valley has been floated online. (Facebook photo)
Canadian Premier League possibly eyeing Fraser Valley expansion

Soccer league looking to add ninth team to the mix, B.C. markets potentially rumoured

The annual Rotary Christmas Parade won’t be going ahead this year as it did last year, rolling through downtown Chilliwack on Saturday, Dec. 7, 2019. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Rotary Christmas Celebration for children will replace downtown Chilliwack parade this year

Parade committee felt it ‘inappropriate’ to host Christmas parade with thousands in the stands

B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry gives a daily briefing on COVID-19 cases at an almost empty B.C. Legislature press theatre in Victoria, B.C., on March 25, 2020. (Don Craig/B.C. government)
B.C. sees 223 new COVID-19 cases, now 2,009 active

Two new care home outbreaks in Surrey, Burnaby

BC Hydro map showing where power has been knocked out is dotted with over a dozen outages. (BC Hydro map screenshot)
Thousands without power in Lower Mainland on election day

One outage in Langley and Surrey is affecting over 4,000 customers

100 Mile Conservation officer Joel Kline gingerly holds an injured but very much alive bald eagle after extracting him from a motorist’s minivan. (Photo submitted)
B.C. driver thought he retrieved a dead bald eagle – until it came to life in his backseat

The driver believed the bird to be dead and not unconscious as it turned out to be

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Chastity Davis-Alphonse took the time to vote on Oct. 21. B.C’s general Election Day is Saturday, Oct. 24. (Chastity Davis-Alphonse Facebook photo)
B.C. reconciliation advocate encourages Indigenous women to vote in provincial election

Through the power of voice and education Chastity Davis-Alphonse is hopeful for change

White Rock RCMP Staff Sgt. Kale Pauls has released a report on mental health and policing in the city. (File photos)
White Rock’s top cop wants to bill local health authority for lengthy mental-health calls

‘Suggestion’ included in nine-page review calling for ‘robust’ support for healthcare-led response

Most Read