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Post-Christmas COVID-19 cases in schools spark fear, letter to Fraser Health

Coquitlam school district has already seen its first coronavirus exposure, teachers are asking for more clarity on outbreaks, vaccination priority, masks and fewer students in classrooms as more Lower Mainland schools post exposures over winter break
Schools COVID-19 Classroom
Coquitlam area teachers want Fraser Health to do more to alert them about COVID-19 cases and to prioritize them for vaccinations.

A campaign by B.C. teachers for safer classrooms and faster reporting of school COVID-19 exposures has won the support of Coquitlam teachers.

Coquitlam Teachers' Association president Ken Christensen is a signatory to a letter along with 11 local presidents from school districts across the Lower Mainland, calling on Fraser Health to “intensify” their efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This week, tens of thousands of public school employees and hundreds of thousands of public school students returned to school after a two-week winter break. Over the break, families were able to limit their exposure to COVID-19, but upon the re-opening of schools on January 4, they once again face the daily risk of exposure to the coronavirus,” the letter states.

The letter to Fraser Health comes as one Coquitlam elementary school has already been flagged for a COVID-19 case. 

Fraser Health indicated that Meadowbrook elementary, located at 900 Sharpe Street, had two coronavirus exposure over the last week, on Jan. 4 and 5.

Across SD43, which includes Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam, Port Moody and Anmore, some 32,000 students were expected to return to classrooms this week, although hundreds of mostly elementary school children were still transitioning last fall because of concerns about returning to the classroom.

Approximately, 2,500 teachers are employed by SD43 in 70 facilities across the district. Prior to the winter break, roughly three-quarters of facilities had experienced a coronavirus exposure on school grounds.

While there have been no outbreaks, one of the teachers' concerns revolves around when an outbreak should be declared.

They want Fraser Health to “provide a clear definition and rationale for the threshold to declare an outbreak in a school,” after several schools reported dozens of exposures prior to winter break, including Surrey, which had 50 cases at one school.

Teachers are also asking for improvements to ensure there is “timely” contact tracing by the Fraser Health Authority because some exposure notices arrive near the end of the two-week monitoring period — too late to help anyone.

Teachers are also calling for reduced density in schools and classrooms to enable physical distancing, mandatory mask use in all indoor spaces, and insurances they will be prioritized to receive vaccinations as soon as possible.

“Too many people in our schools feel unsafe. In addition, parents are worried about the health of their children and COVID-19 entering their homes because of transmission at school. More needs to be done to improve preventative measures. Many schools in the Fraser Health region are not safe enough and the status quo is unacceptable,” the letter states.

The letter is signed by local presidents, from Burnaby through to the Fraser-Cascade districts.