Quicker COVID-19 school exposure notices promised as Port Coquitlam parents raise concerns

Lag time in school exposure notices could be explained in part by delays to testing, says medical health officer, but she says efforts are being made to get notices out to parents sooner

Fraser Health is promising to get early COVID-19 notice letters out to parents more quickly after some have complained the notice letters are too late and not helpful.

“We are closing the gap certainly in public health in trying to get those early notification letters out sooner,” said Dr. Ariella Zbar, who works with a hub dealing with COVID-19 exposures in schools.

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The week of Nov. 13-20 saw exposure notices for a number of schools with exposure dates the previous week. Currently there are eight Tri-City schools on the Fraser Health portal. One additional school, Coquitlam River, was flagged on the School District 43 Facebook page but hasn’t been listed on the portal.

Zbar’s comments come as parents have reached out to the Tri-City News concerned the letters come too late to make decisions about whether to keep their child home and don’t contain enough information as to who was exposed and where they were in the school.

LAG TIME

Typically, the letters are arrive 10 or 11 days after an infectious person was on school grounds.

One parent who reached out to the Tri-City News via Facebook said she never got a letter emailed to her about the Nov. 3 and 4 exposure at Central school. It was on the school website on Nov. 14, but just to be sure, the woman checks the Fraser Health website every morning to see if her school has had an exposure.

“I’m very concerned,” said the mom.

To take extra precautions she had her son tested for COVID-19 — he was negative — and kept him home for a few days.

With no plans in sight to close school early before winter break, parents are dealing daily with health checks, and the stress of worrying whether their child will bring COVID-19 home from school.

Early notification letters are supposed to be a kind of early-warning system that someone in the school tested positive for COVID-19. 

In addition to some Tri-City parents, New Westminster school district has also flagged the issue of lag time at a recent school board meeting.

But Fraser Health’s Zbar said delays in people getting tested may also be part of the problem.

TESTING DELAYS

She said public health is sending out letters as soon as it has been determined that someone with a positive COVID-19 test has been at a school. 

But the longer people delay their test, the longer the lag time in early notices to parents. In fact, Zbar said people should get tested as soon as they experience even mild symptoms.

“The earlier people get tested the earlier those notices can go out,” Zbar said.

Still, she said schools are safe places and, after working for several months with schools — she said she wants to assure parents that exposure risk is low.

Zbar said while notices are an indication that someone tested positive and was in their infectious period while on school grounds, the risk of catching COVID-19 in an exposure is low. It’s only when there has been face-to-face contact without a mask that public health nurses will reach out and ask parents and staff to self-isolate as a precaution.

CLOSE WATCH KEPT

“We may ask students and staff to self isolate, with very close face-to-face contact with no masks involved — it could be handful of close friends or it could be an entire classroom, depending on the level of risk,” she said. 

While parents have the day-to-day worry, Zbar said they should know that Fraser Health is keeping a close watch on the situation.

“Schools have continued to be a safe place for staff members and for students,” she said. What we see in schools is ultimately a reflection in community transmission. It is imperative we all — parents, staff and students — take public health measures very seriously because that is how we will decrease the chance of transmission.”

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