Visits to Whistler during spring break, unsanctioned grad campouts, hangouts with friends and the presence of variant strains of the coronavirus are just a few factors that are driving North Shore school exposures to record levels for the first half of April.
About 85 notices have gone out to parents in North and West Vancouver schools this month, warning of possible COVID exposures, says Coralynn Gehl, who runs a Facebook site where parents share information and notices from the North Shore.
Secondary and elementary schools across the North Shore have been hit with recent notices.
Several high schools – including West Vancouver Secondary and Rockridge in West Vancouver and Argyle and Carson Graham in North Vancouver – have posted multiple notices impacting multiple grades.
Gehl says there appear to be multiple causes – ranging from trips to Whistler during spring break to the likelihood of variants that have resulted in infections being spread more easily.
“I’ve heard a lot more stories recently about whole families getting sick,” she said, including some in which “they don’t know how it happened.”
Dr. Mark Lysyshyn, deputy chief medical health officer for Vancouver Coastal Health, said cases on the North Shore are primarily being spread through household contacts and small social get-togethers.
Variants cases throughout VCH
“We have variants, including the P.1 variant [originally identified in Brazil] in every part of Vancouver Coastal Health...” including the North Shore, said Lysyshyn.
“They are becoming the predominant type of virus now, and we're seeing them everywhere.”
Gehl said she’s definitely heard of families and teens who are ignoring the rules against social gathering. “People are tired of the restrictions,” she said.
“I think people are looking at their kids who have been in this sort of weird limbo for a year, thinking that they can't bring themselves to deny them that grad party or that grad trip. And honestly, I don't know what the answer is.
“There’s a bit of polarization between people who want to follow the rules and the people who don’t,” she said. But she added, “People who haven’t been following the rules all along aren’t going to start now.”
Gehl said she’s also heard of cases where either adults or teens avoided being tested for COVID. “They don’t want to be forced to isolate and tell a contact tracer where they’ve been or who they’ve been with,” she said.
Some teens are concerned about having to miss classes under the quarter system – or having to name friends as close contacts and forcing those people to self-isolate, she said.
Some families keeping kids home from school
Still other families are also opting to keep their kids home in light of the increased number of exposure notices, said Gehl.
“I’m keeping mine home based on what I’m hearing about what’s going on in the neighbourhood,” she said.
But she adds that’s a difficult decision for some parents, who may not have the option of working from home. Also, “It’s a lot easier to have a 12-year-old at home than a whole bunch of younger kids,” she said.
Teachers feeling anxious
Renee Willock, president of the West Vancouver Teachers Association, said the number of exposures in schools like West Vancouver Secondary is especially concerning. “There are exposures in every grade. Multiple exposures,” she said, which has added to anxiety for teachers. “They’re feeling like they are being asked to do unsafe work."
Willock said anecdotally, teachers have been hearing about everything from unsanctioned grad parties to car rallies with multiple teens in cars as activities that might be contributing to the spread of the virus: “Super risky kinds of things that should not be happening,” she said.
When parents pull their kids out of school, that creates a different set of problems.
In some cases, only eight students out of a class are attending, said Spencer Capier, vice-president of the West Vancouver Teachers Association. That makes it difficult to teach a class, said Capier, and adds work when parents expect them to provide extra help for learning at home.
Sean Nosek, associate superintendent for the West Vancouver School District, said schools do often note an uptick in students who are absent following exposure notices. But generally that lasts only a few days, he said. "It's not something we're being innundated with," he said.
"Most people get that schools are safe," he said. Many parents also discover "it's not so easy to have teenagers at home for days on end."
Health officials insist transmission in schools is still low.
On Thursday, Dr. Bonnie Henry, the province's medical health officer, released information from a study conducted last fall that showed less than one per cent of students and staff attending school in Vancouver Coastal Health – 699 people out of 124,000 – contracted COVID over a three-month time span. Of those who did, only 55 cases (about 8 per cent of cases) were likely transmitted in school, said Henry. Henry said most cases among school students or staff are acquired in the community through household contacts or social gatherings. Staff made up about 23 per cent of school cases – about 160 people – during the three months between mid-September and mid-December, according to the study.
Gehl, meanwhile, said she’s expecting school exposures to increase in numbers before getting better. In April there were 70 notices sent out to families on the North Shore. This month, “I expect we’ll blow past 100,” she said.
Recent exposure notices in North Shore schools:
Rockridge Secondary: Students in French 10 and Photography 11/12 exposed April 12 and 13 and students in Theatre Company 9-12 exposed April 13. Students and staff in law 12 and chemistry 11 exposed April 7 and 8. Students in PE 9 and social students 9 exposed April 1. Students and staff in English 9 and science 9 exposed March 31 and April 1.Students in Lit Studies and Spanish 11 exposed April 8. Students in law 12 exposed April 9. Students in foods 9 and science 9 exposed April 7, 8 and 12.
West Vancouver Secondary: Students in photography 9 and English 9 exposed April 14 - 16. Staff and students in social studies 8 and math 8 exposed April 9. Students in foods 11/12 and science 10 exposed April 7-9. Students in Spanish 11 exposed April 8 and 9. Students in Grade 9 information and technology 9 and English 9 class exposed March 31. Students in English 12 class exposed March 31.
Sentinel Secondary. Students in two classes, English 9 and textiles 9 exposed April 16. Students in two classes including Grade 9 woodworking exposed April 7-9. Students in two classes exposed April 9.
Mulgrave private school. Limited exposure in Grade 11 class March 29 and April 6-7.
Hollyburn Elementary: Grade 4/5 class exposed April 8 and 9.
Ridgeview Elementary: Grade 7 class exposed April 12 to 16.
Caulfeild Elementary: Grade 1 class exposed April 9, 12, 13 and 14. Grade 4 class exposed April 12 - 16.
Chartwell Elementary. Grade 6/7 class exposed April 7 and 8. Grade 4 class exposed March 31 and April 1. Grade 6/7 band class exposed March 29. Grade 5/6 class exposed March 29 and April 1
Irwin Park Elementary: notice of exposure in Grade 7 class sent week of April 12.
Collingwood School. Grade 6 class at Wentworth campus exposed April 9. Grade 2 class exposed April 8. Other recent exposure dates: March 29-31, April 1 and April 6-9. Grade 10 class exposed April 13.
Saint Anthony's School, private school. Exposure dates March 29 – April 1.
Bowen Island Community School: Grade 2 class exposed April 14 - 16.
Kenneth Gordon Maplewood school. Exposure dates: April 6 and 7
Argyle Secondary: Students in Lit Studies and Composition 10 exposed April 12. Grade 8 social studies and PE classes exposed April 6-8. Multi-grade ELL class and career education 10 class exposed March 30-April 1, April 6-8. Engineering 11/12 class exposed April 6 and Grade 12 ecommerce class exposed April 6 and 7, boys PE10 exposed April 7 and 9, social studies 10 exposed April 6 - 9 and 12, anatomy 12, Spanish 12 and senior girls' soccer exposed April 9
Seycove Secondary: Students in foundations of math and pre-calculus 10 exposed April 14 and 15. Students in chemistry 11 and world history 12 exposed March 29 –April 1 and April 6 – 8.
Carson Graham Secondary. Students in Grade 10 social studies and math classes exposed April 8. Students in Grade 9 and Grade 12 food studies exposed April 6.
Windsor Secondary. Students in English 9, concert band 9 and Grade 10 grad literary assessment exposed April 12 and 13. Students in concert band 10 exposed April 14. Students in sciences humaines 10 exposed April 13 and 15. Students in advanced jazz band 10/12 exposed April 12 and 14, students in NAT 20 club exposed April 13. Students in grad literacy 10 exposed April 12. Students in three Grade 10 classes: pre-calculus 10, boys choir 10 and band 10 exposed April 9.
Handsworth Secondary. Grade 11 marketing class and Grade 10 career education class exposed April 8 and 9. Grade 12 ECommerce and Grade 12 English class exposed April 13 - 16.
Sutherland Secondary. Students in math 10 and PE 9/10 class exposed March 30-April 1.
Blueridge Elementary: Grade 4/5 class exposed April 14 - 16.
Boundary Elementary. Grade 5/6 class exposed April 7 – 9.
Norgate Elementary. Grade 6 class exposed April 6 and 7.
Cleveland Elementary. Kindergarten class exposed April 8.
Queensbury Elementary: Grade 1/2 class exposed April 9.
Ross Road Elementary: Grade 1 class exposed April 12.
Lynnmour Elementary: Grade 3/4 class exposed April 13 and 14.
Sherwood Park Elementary: Kindergarten class exposed April 12 and 13
Carisbrooke Elementary. One Grade 1 class and one Grade 4 class exposed April 12 and 13. Grade 2/3 class exposed April 12.
Upper Lynn Elementary. Two kindergarten classes exposed April 9.
Dorothy Lynas Elementary: Kindergarten/Grade 1 class exposed April 12 & 13.
Canyon Heights Elementary. Grade 6/7 class exposed April 9. Grade 6/7 class exposed April 12 and 13. Grade 7 class exposed April 12 - 14. Grade 2/3 class exposed April 15 and 16.
Holy Trinity Elementary. Exposure notice for April 6-7.
Lions Gate Christian Academy. Exposure notice for April 9.
Kids and Company Daycare: Exposure notice for April 6 - 8.
Rainforest Learning Centre, kids who attended before and after school care at Queensbury Elementary April 9 exposed and advised to monitor for symptoms.
Montroyal Elementary. Grade 6/7 class exposed April 1.
Andre Piolat French school. Grade 1 class exposed April 1.
Cousteau International French School: Exposure March 30 - April 2.