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Here's what Vancouver Coastal Health has to say about COVID-19 transmission in schools

VCH says children are less likely to get infected with COVID-19, and are also less likely to experience severe symptoms if infected.
Since schools reopened in September, Vancouver Coastal Health says it has not seen a significant increase in coronavirus (COVID-19) cases among school-aged children relative to other groups.  Photo: classroom / Getty Images

Since B.C. schools reopened in September, Vancouver Coastal Health says it has not seen a significant increase in coronavirus (COVID-19) cases among school-aged children relative to other groups. 

The health authority has released data that indicates "a low rate of COVID-19 transmission in schools across its region" during the first half of the school year. 

Those aged five to 17 years of age accounted for six per cent of VCH’s COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic, despite representing 10 per cent of VCH’s population, explains a news release.

Based on evidence, VCH says that children are less likely to get infected with COVID-19, and are also less likely to experience severe symptoms if infected.

Speaking about COVID-19 and school environments, VCH Medical Health Officer Dr. Alex Choi said, “We want educators, other school staff, parents/caregivers and students to feel reassured that schools are a safe and low-risk environment for COVID-19 transmission, thanks to the hard work and dedication of our schools and school districts. The safety plans currently in place are robust and effective, and VCH is committed to ensuring that when students or school staff do test positive, a rigorous Public Health follow-up process is in place.”

COVID-19 cases in the Vancouver Coastal Health region

From Sept. 10 to Dec. 18, approximately 700 students or staff - out of a total of over 100 thousand - in the Vancouver Coastal region have been diagnosed with COVID-19. Over 90 per cent of these cases have not resulted in any school-based transmission. The vast majority of affected students and staff contracted the virus at home or in social circumstances outside of school and links to schools were determined through contact tracing.  Students and staff who get tested must isolate while waiting for test results and continue to do so if they test positive. In addition, close contacts are also asked to self-isolate for 14-days. This rigorous Public Health tracing process has supported in further reducing transmission events in schools.

Dr. Choi said the data supports efforts to keep schools open, and for students to attend in-person: “While we have seen a moderate increase in COVID-19 cases among young people since the end of October, this is reflective of the overall increase in COVID-19 cases in our communities. Schools are an essential determinant of physical, mental and emotional development. It is our utmost priority to ensure students can continue to attend school, despite the ongoing pandemic.”

When VCH is notified of a positive case in a student or school staff member, Public Health completes an investigation, typically within 24 hours, to identify all individuals that person was in contact with. If the person who tested positive for COVID-19 attended school while potentially infectious, Public Health coordinates with the school to notify all contacts and to offer guidance. Depending on their level of contact with the person who tested positive, this could include directions to self-monitor for symptoms and get tested if symptoms arise, or to self-isolate at home for close contacts.

Once those who were in contact with the person who tested positive have been notified directly of a potential COVID-19 exposure, VCH posts the notification to its website. The page is updated once per day on weekdays. Additional information about the contact tracing process for schools is also available on this webpage.

VCH is responsible for the delivery of $4.1 billion in community, hospital and long-term care to more than one million people in communities including Richmond, Vancouver, the North Shore, Sunshine Coast, Sea-to-Sky corridor, Powell River, Bella Bella and Bella Coola. VCH also provides specialized care and services for people throughout B.C. and is the province’s hub of health care education and research.

PE class isn't cancelled in B.C. schools

Despite growing concern regarding the soaring number of positive COVID-19 cases in Metro Vancouver schools, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says in-person education is an important part of development for children--and that includes physical education. 

During the first coronavirus (COVID-19) briefing of 2021 on Monday, Jan. 4, B.C.'s top doctor told reporters that health officials are reevaluating safety measures and plans after the Surrey School District reported a staggering 50 cases of the virus at Earl Marriott Secondary School. 

"We know that it's really important and that for some children, the physical aspect of school is important in terms of their learning," said Henry. "So there are ways that can be done safely, the fact that it's happened in one place means that we need to re-look at how it is done and can be done safely."

While British Columbians must wear face masks inside all public indoor spaces, the Provincial Health Order does not require children to wear them while they are in classrooms. Middle and secondary students must wear face masks when they are in high traffic areas like school buses and hallways, and anytime they are outside of their classroom or learning group and they cannot safely distance from others

Henry added that wearing facial coverings during P.E. would be especially difficult because masks are "not as effective when they get moist." However, she added that there are measures that need to be put in place to ensure P.E. classes are offered safely.