COVID-19 cases at B.C schools real possibility in coming weeks, 'but that's OK,' says Henry

Roughly one-third of Tri-City students are expected to head back to Coquitlam school district classrooms Monday.

British Columbia’s provincial health officer said she expects the odd school-linked case of COVID-19 to emerge as thousands of children head back to class Monday. 

In response to questions by reporters Saturday, May 30, Dr. Bonnie Henry pointed to the incidence of several school-related COVID-19 cases in Quebec as their schools began to reopen, noting that it was limited number of people and not unexpected. 

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“It was not unexpected in Quebec that small numbers of people would bring the virus into the classroom,” she said. “Most often, it was an adult that brought the virus inadvertently into the situation.”

Roughly one-third of Tri-City students are expected to head back to Coquitlam school district classrooms Monday. That’s according to a SD43 survey, in which it was found 36% of elementary students, 33% of middle school students and just 21% of secondary students were planning to return to class June 1. And while children will not be required to wear masks due to what the district calls a "regulated setting," where social distancing can be controlled, there is still some risk that an outbreak could arise.

“I would not be surprised if we did have one or two cases arise, perhaps, in our schools in the coming weeks,” said Henry. “But that’s OK. We know how to deal with this.”

That potential is why parents and staff — as well as the rest of British Columbians — need to remain vigilant when it comes to hygiene and social distancing, according to Henry. 

Dr. Bonnie Henry
B.C.'s provincial health officer Bonnie Henry speaks to media earlier this week - BC Government

Earlier this week, Henry told reporters COVID-19 is more likely spread from adults to children than vice versa. In other parts of the world, an inflammatory symptom known as Kawasaki disease has been linked to a novel coronavirus infection. 

Henry said that this condition typically occurs in children after a viral infection, and though COVID-19 may be one of the causes, it's not the only virus that can cause it.

Of the dozen cases identified in B.C., so far none have been confirmed to be linked to COVID-19.

"I will say it is quite rare still," she said.

When asked about expanding social circles beyond the two to six people outside of one’s household, Henry held the line, pointing to the fact we’re in a key window between incubation periods.

“We’re two weeks from the re-start and then we’re going to be starting classroom schooling next week. So this is not the time to be expanding other circles,” she said. 

And as students head back to the classroom, public health officials will be monitoring the situation closely, prepared to very quickly intervene and conduct contact tracing and any other measures necessary to stem the spread of the virus, according to Henry.

“Monday and Tuesday are going to be very fun days for kids, but it’s also going to be a little anxiety-provoking for all of us,” she said.

— with files from Graham Wood and Jane Seyd

Correction: an earlier version of this article said COVID-19 is more likely ot spread from children to adults. It is, in fact, more likely to spread from adults to children, according to Dr. Bonnie Henry.

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