Hope Secondary School has now had four COVID-19 exposures at the school since Oct. 30, the only school in the Fraser Cascade school district to have experienced multiple exposures.
Fraser Health defines an exposure as a “single person with [a] lab-confirmed COVID-19 infection who attended school during their infectious period” and lists these on a public website. The fourth such exposure to date at Hope Secondary occured on Nov. 19 and 20, according to Fraser Health.
Hope Secondary School has experienced exposures on Oct. 30, Nov. 11 to 13, Nov. 19 and 20 as well as a fourth exposure whose date was not specified by the school district. Letters to parents regarding the exposures were sent Nov. 1, Nov. 17, Nov. 25 and Nov. 27 superintendent Balan Moorthy confirmed.
Another exposure occured at Agassiz Elementary Secondary School on Nov. 4, 5 and 6, and so far none of the Fraser Cascade school district (SD78) elementary schools nor the Boston Bar Elementary Secondary School have experienced exposures.
Moorthy said he understands there are fears and concerns about COVID-19 and also about the continuity of learning. “Automatically the community gets afraid of [the exposure] and they don’t want to send their kids to school,” he said. The fear is that the school population could drop, but this hasn’t been seen in communities with a lot more exposures such as Abbotsford, Surrey and Langley Moorthy said. “Now they’re beginning to realize that the exposures are more community oriented, and they’re not getting a lot of transmission in between schools.”
While he could not speak directly to the cases at the high school due to privacy rules, Moorthy said that around 99 per cent of transmissions in B.C. are when people go out into the community and contract COVID-19 from “playing a community sport or they’ve gone to a localized event.”
Of the latest exposure at Hope Secondary, Moorthy said it was a “very localized incident in a very confined space over a progressive period of time.”
“While it’s scary and it’s tragic with the amount of loss that has happened across North America, and in no way would I ever undermine the seriousness of it. What I do firmly believe that the best place for kids to be right now in school,” he said.
The number of students not attending in-class instruction full time has gone from 237 to 176 across the school district he said at a Nov. 17 school board meeting. Those not in class could be either transitioning back to classes by the latest end of November (option 2 outlined earlier this fall by SD78), continuing online learning through the Western Canadian Learning Network and monitored by a classroom teacher (option 3) or families opting to homeschool (option 4).
Moorthy referenced a letter sent to families whose children were in option 2, about making a decision on whether to return to in class learning. “The timing isn’t great” he acknowledged, yet the focus needs to be improving options for students as some of those in option 2 are not attending at all. “So by the end of November, into early December, students will either be in school, or we will be assigning them to a teacher who will help to monitor them online for the remainder of the school year.”
Loss of learning and emotional health of students is impacted if they are not in school, plus there has been “very, very little transmission between people in the general school setting.”
In an interview with the Hope Standard last week, Moorthy said the school district has “probably the lowest rates of COVID in the entire Lower Mainland” and in the Fraser Valley.
In neighbouring communities, the number of exposures are higher than in SD78: three Abbotsford schools are listed on the Fraser Health site with exposures, as well as three Chilliwack schools. Four independent schools in Abbotsford and one in Chilliwack also have exposures currently listed.
There are also schools in the Fraser Health region and across B.C. experiencing clusters, outbreaks and functional closures, including an outbreak declared Nov. 27 at Surrey’s Newton Elementary School after 16 COVID-19 positive cases were identified.
When a student or teacher is confirmed positive, the health authority begins contact tracing to find out how they person was infected and who they were in close contact with. Close contacts who may be at increased risk are notified and advised to self-isolate or self-monitor for symptoms of COVID-19 for two weeks.
People in the same learning cohort, friends or other contacts may be determined by public health not to be close contacts. And for families who receive notifications of exposures at their school, Fraser Health advises that this does not mean their child has been exposed to COVID-19. “If you do not receive a phone call or letter from Public Health, your child should continue to attend school,” Fraser Health stated, adding that families can monitor their child for symptoms using a self-assessment tool found at bc.thrive.health.
Moorthy said that any parents with concerns should contact him. The school district office can be reached at 604-869-2411.
Editor’s note: A previous version of this story misstated the number of COVID-19 exposures at Hope Secondary School. There have been four exposures in total at the school. The Hope Standard apologizes for any confusion this may have caused.
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