A strong majority of B.C. teachers say that health and safety measures in place to stem the spread of COVID-19 are inadequate.
That’s according to the BC Teachers' Federation, which conducted a survey of just under 9,000 teachers in all but two school districts in the province. When teachers were asked how adequate workplace health and safety measures were, 60% of them said conditions in their school setting were either “completely inadequate” (7%) or “somewhat inadequate.”
“These are not surprising results,” said BCTF president Teri Mooring in a press release. “Many teachers are working in classrooms that have no space for physical distancing or access to fresh air. In many cases there has been no reduction in class sizes or school density. Coupled with a weak mask mandate and it’s clear why so many teachers are reporting unsafe conditions.”
Mooring added that things have not improved as the province moves into the second month of school, and BCTF is calling on the government to mandate a stronger mask policy, smaller class sizes and hybrid education programs that both work for everyone and reduce the density of in-school students.
“The COVID-19 exposures started almost as soon as schools opened, and now we know there has likely been in-school transmission at multiple sites,” added Mooring in the release.
“The first month has been filled with confusing and inconsistent public reporting, online speculation, and serious lags between an exposure and effective contact tracing. We need the health authorities and school districts to be doing a better job at informing teachers and parents about possible exposures.”
But on Monday, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said that B.C. students’ return to class is not leading to a spike in the transmission of the virus that causes COVID-19.
As of Oct. 1, 50 exposures had been reported in school settings, about half of which were in elementary schools and half at the secondary level — but Dr. Henry pointed out that with more than 2,000 schools in the province and 500,000 students, numbers are still very low.
“The proportion of COVID-19 cases, by week, in school-age children remains low, less than 10%, and that has been consistent in the first three to four weeks since schools opened,” she said.
Dr. Henry said the focus on contact tracing — to ensure that close contacts of anyone who has tested positive with COVID-19 isolates appropriately – is so far proving to be effective.
“We need to recognize that our goal, our overriding goal, is to ensure that kids are safely in school. What we have seen and what we continue to see are very low exposure events and very few, if any, transmission events in schools,” she said.
“What we’re not seeing is schools amplifying transmission in a community.”
Questioned by reporters why public health officials can’t provide more information about COVID-19 exposures in schools — such as what cohort or class an exposure occurred in — Henry said the current process of notification is designed to balance health protection and privacy.
The BCTF survey, which was conducted between Sept. 17 and 21, included classroom teachers (70%), specialist teachers (21%) and teachers teaching on call (5%).
-With files from Julie MacLellan