While Fraser Health and the Chilliwack School District say no in-school transmission of COVID-19 is happening, the situation at AD Rundle middle school suggests otherwise.
On Thursday (Dec. 17) afternoon, an early-exposure notice was sent out to the entire school.
That night, a self-isolation notification was sent out to the entire Integrated Arts and Tech (AIT) cohort, which is a separate program operating in a separate building on the property. There are 90 students in that group and the letter asked any who attended school Dec. 7 or 14 to self isolate at home for 14 days from the last day they were in the building.
The entire cohort is now effectively shut down, with students, teachers and teachers-on-call self isolating.
Katie Bartel, who has two daughters in the cohort, said she was able to independently verify three positive COVID tests within the group last week and another this week.
While her children are now at home, she is frustrated that the school district and Fraser Health weren’t faster with their notifications.
“It’s a complex issue, but Fraser Health is not giving the district admins authority to let parents know fast enough,” she said. “Parents knew about the fourth case more than 24 hours before the official notice went out.”
One of Bartel’s daughters has Down syndrome.
“She is vulnerable and ‘unseen’ as a close contact sometimes because she hovers but isn’t always seen in the same way as a peer friend might be,” Bartel explained. “And she can’t use her voice to tell me who she’s been around.”
Bartel said teachers and educational assistants, who would normally be her daughter’s ‘voice,’ have been told they can’t inform her if any adults have tested positive. She has been “left to guess and investigate myself.”
“We aren’t confident that the school or Fraser Health is accurate tracking close contacts,” she said.
Chilliwack School District interim-superintendent Rohan arul-Pragasm remains confident that the notification process is working as it should, and significant improvements have been made since an initial outbreak occurred in late October.
“It’s changed drastically since then,” arul-Pragasm said. “In my conversations with Fraser Health, they’ve tripled their capacity and enhanced the contact-tracing process, and I’m seeing the time differences reduced drastically. And keep in mind that each case is unique and many factors go into the science of contact tracing. Many factors come into play when making statements about timelines.
“The key communication from Fraser Health has always been that as soon as people feel sick, they need to get tested, so Fraser Health can make sure the information they give out is timely.”
Bartel is also frustrated by a conversation she had Thursday night with arul-Pragasm, in which she was told there is no scientific evidence that COVID is being transmitted between students.
“It doesn’t make sense that there is no concern around school transmission, but they closed the cohort and have asked all teachers and students to self-isolate,” Bartel said.
arul-Pragasm confimed that conversation.
“The evidence and all the information we have so far from Fraser Health doesn’t point to transmission within a school, and there’s no evidence of a school cluster,” arul-Pragasm responded. “The decision to self-isolate this cohort is made by Fraser Health. They connect with the families and they make a decision based on the information they have.”
Though students are off on their winter break the next two weeks, the Chilliwack School District and Fraser Health will continue with notifications during that time.
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