The BC Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) wants better masks and ventilation in schools as the more-contagious Omicron variant of COVID-19 spreads across the Lower Mainland and the province.
In a series of tweets just before Christmas, the union that represents about 45,000 teachers across B.C. urged the province to ramp up its response to the variant, saying “If keeping #bced schools open is the goal, then they need to do much more and communicate it clearly before the New Year.”
The union said they’ve been reaching out to government representatives at the local and provincial level with their concerns.
The BCTF is calling for N95 masks to be used and for school officials to be more vigilant in monitoring mask mandates.
They also want more MERV-13 air filtration, a hospital-grade filtration system that can control for bacteria and droplets that come from sneezing.
“Opening windows is not a real option in parts of the province that face bitter cold,” the BCTF tweeted out in its series of suggestions.
The union is also asking for a rapid testing regime for students and staff, and more information about exposures and clusters.
Parents at Walter Lee Elementary in Steveston expressed their frustration to the Richmond News this fall when they were hearing anecdotally about several cases in their kids’ school and yet they weren’t getting any official notification from public health or the school about COVID-19 cases. (Vancouver Coastal Health said public health had done contact tracing and didn’t feel these cases warranted public notification.)
Some Walter Lee parents had set up their own telephone tree to let each other know about kids getting sick.
The BCTF had other suggestions on how to respond to the Omicron variant, including limiting the size of school gatherings, holding meetings virtually, revising the daily health assessment and staggering school start times, lunch, recess and school end times.
They also called for ramping up of testing and vaccinations during the two-week winter break.
With the Omicron variant spreading, cases of COVID-19 have reached new heights with about 6,000 reported over a three-day period during Christmas. But hospitalizations of people with the virus haven’t risen at the same pace.
In fact, the province was discouraging vaccinated people with mild symptoms from getting tested.
In the meantime, children aged five to 11 are currently being vaccinated.
In Steveston, 56 per cent of children have received their first COVID-19 vaccine while in large areas of Richmond, this rate is around 37 per cent, according to BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) data from Dec. 22.
Children’s vaccination rates seem to range widely across the Lower Mainland, with 69 per cent vaccinated in Central North Vancouver District, whereas Southwest Burnaby has a rate of 37 per cent. The vaccination rate in Whalley is only 17 per cent for children aged five to 11.