After a “horrible” February in which school COVID-19 exposures more than tripled, Tri-City teachers are now calling for COVID-19 vaccines for themselves sooner to help combat the virus while reducing stress that’s leading to mental illness.
Ken Christensen, Coquitlam Teachers Association president, said COVID-19 in the community spread to schools last month and teachers bore the brunt of stress and anxiety, with some having to go on medical leave because of mental health concerns.
“It’s not coming out from our building. It’s coming in to it. We’re not creating the problems,” said Christensen, who credited teachers’ adherence to protocols — as well as parent and student cooperation — as the reason the virus didn’t spread more in schools, given the prevalence of variants in the community.
But he said the gruelling month in which there were more than 100 exposures flagged at School District 43 schools, including at least one cluster of transmission and a variant, has taken its toll.
To get teachers safely through to June, they should should be designated essential service workers so they can get their vaccines sooner. “They do really feel they are on the front lines. I believe they are front-line workers.”
COVID-19 VARIANTS STILL A CONCERN, SAY COQUITLAM TEACHERS
Noting that variants have been found in schools — mostly in Surrey, but one in a Coquitlam middle school — Christensen said teachers should get shots sooner and noted that a school-based system for flu vaccines could be scaled up for COVID-19.
“The district would scale up that program very quickly. We have a system in place we could get shots into people’s arms within days.”
Already in March, more than eight School District 43 schools have had COVID-19 exposures. And while the numbers aren’t as high as in February, the district’s 2,600 teachers are exhausted and medical health claims are up after that “horrible” month, Christensen said.
“Facing a generalized crisis like this, it’s overwhelming for new teachers dealing with this at the onset of their career and for people on the other end battling health concerns in the latter part of their career. Stress contributes a lot to health issues.”
SPRING BREAK COULD BE A 'BIOLOGICAL CIRCUIT BREAKER'
Failing any other change in vaccine distribution, Christensen said he’s looking at the upcoming spring break as a bit of a “biological circuit breaker” to ramp down the virus. He hopes members of the public don’t let their exhaustion get the better of them and make decisions that could cause the disease to spike again.
Notification letters have been sent out in recent days to eight public and two independent schools in Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam and Port Moody, for a total of 10 so far this week.
Here is the list to Monday, March 8 for Tri-City public and independent schools, according to the Fraser Health school exposure website and BC Covid Tracker. They include recent letters issued this week as well as those issued previously with exposure dates that are still within the 14-day infectious period:
• Gleneagle secondary: Feb. 22
• Pinetree secondary: Feb. 22, 23, 24, 26
• Encompass, grades 10 to 12: Feb. 23
• Scott Creek middle: Feb. 22, 23, 24 and 25
• Como Lake middle: Feb. 23, 24 and 25
• Summit middle school: March 1
• Riverview Park elementary: Feb. 22 and 23
• Leigh elementary: March 1
• Mundy Road elementary: Feb. 24
• Roy Stibbs elementary: Feb. 25
• Hampton Park elementary: Feb. 25
• Coquitlam River elementary: March 1 and 2
• Walton elementary: Feb. 24
• Our Lady of Fatima (Indep): March 2, 3 and 4
• Panorama heights March 3,4,5
• Smiling Creek elementary March 2
• Riverside secondary: Feb. 24; March 1, 2, 3 and 4
• Terry Fox secondary: Feb. 25
• Archbishop Carney secondary (Indep): Feb. 22, 23, 24, 25 and 26; March 1
• Pitt River middle: Feb. 24 and 25
• Kwayhquitlum middle: Feb. 23, 24 and 25; March 1, 2 and 3
• Citadel middle: Feb. 23
• Maple Creek middle: Feb. 23
• Mary Hill elementary: Feb. 22; March 1
• Irvine elementary: Feb. 23, 24 and 25
• Kilmer elementary: Feb. 24
• Castle Park elementary: March 2, 3 and 4
• Heritage Woods secondary: Feb. 22, 23, 24 and 25
• Port Moody secondary: Feb. 24
• Moody middle: Feb. 23 and 24; March 2 and 3
• Glenayre elementary: Feb. 23, 24 and 25
• Moody elementary: Feb. 24
• Eagle Mountain middle: Feb. 25