Skip to content

OPINION: COVID data sharing is slow, incomplete and confusing

It’s hard to know what to do with the information even when teachers and parents get it
FILE – Children walk with their parents to Sherwood Park Elementary in North Vancouver for the first day back-to-school Thursday, September 10, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

We’ve seen exposures, clusters, outbreaks, some vectors, and definitely a handful of super-spreader events.

“What the heck are you talking about?” asks the March 2020 version of every single one of us.

Welcome to our new unwanted and highly confusing daily vernacular.

From parents to teachers to employer to employees, maybe we thought navigating a global pandemic would get easier as things went along but instead it seems to have become more difficult.

Focusing on the situation regarding COVID-19 in schools, the B.C. Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) recently asked the province for more clarity on how different school exposure events are classified and for contact tracing to be sped up.

“It’s unacceptable that, over a year-and-a-half into this pandemic, there is still no provincewide consistency in how exposures and clusters in schools are defined and reported,” BCTF president Teri Mooring said.

“Parents and teachers look to their school district and local health authority for information about what’s happening in their schools, and it has become very clear that the information provided and the communication to school communities is not painting an accurate picture. Trust in the system has been broken.”

READ MORE: Teachers’ union calls for more speed, clarity on COVID-19 exposures

RELATED: BCTF survey finds 94% of teachers fully vaccinated

Teachers have noticed “significant inconsistencies” in how outbreaks, clusters and exposures are classified, according to the union.

School exposures are found on each health authority’s website. Outbreaks and clusters are not listed, only exposures or potential exposure events. In the fall of 2020, Fraser Health defined three types of events: an “exposure event” was defined on the health authority’s website as “a single person with lab-confirmed COVID-19 infection who attended school during their infectious period;” a “cluster event” had two or more people infected and “outbreak events” involved widespread infection and transmission in schools.

Are you still with me?

Then there are the parents behind the “BC School Covid Tracker” website and Facebook page, where all exposures are listed in a database confirmed by public health letters, school letters, and the B.C. Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) website.

There were 28 exposure events at Chilliwack schools in the week ending Oct. 26, 21 of those at public schools and seven at Independent/Christian schools.

Sounds like a lot, but what does it mean? What should parents do?

These aren’t rhetorical questions. I don’t have answers and many parents continue to be confused about the way information is shared, and what that information even means for our daily lives.

A Fraser Health presentation from spring of 2021 defines a “confirmed cluster” as “at least one in-school transmission event (possible or likely) in a 14-day period.” while a “declared outbreak” is a “cluster with evidence of ongoing transmission in multiple classrooms/admin areas.”

That definition, however, is not currently on Fraser Health’s school exposures website nor on the webpages where the exposures are listed for any other health authorities.

The BCCDC defines a cluster as when there are “several cases in a school within a two-week period. Public health thinks people may have been infected at school,” while an outbreak is when a cluster requires “significant actions… to stop COVID-19 from spreading in the school. Public health may take extraordinary measures, like closing the school for a period of time.”

Again, still following?

A recent BCTF survey found that 71 per cent of teachers said they’re not receiving enough information about COVID cases in their schools and districts.

If we surveyed parents, I suspect that number might be even higher.

Yet none of us seem to know what to do with the information anyway.

Do you have something to add to this story, or something else we should report on? Email:

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Pop-up banner image