By RHONDA KERSHAW
Chair, School District 73 Board
ON OCTOBER 1, 2021, BC’s Provincial Health Officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry stated that there has been a more steady rise in COVID-19 cases, clusters and outbreaks in communities where vaccination rates are lower, including the Interior region, than in other areas of BC.
This recent spike in COVID-19 cases is mirrored in Kamloops-Thompson schools, where most transmission reportedly happens through home and social activities outside of schools.
Schools continue to be the safest places for our children. Beyond physical safety, schools are also places for psychological and social safety that bring stability to our children in a time of unpredictability.
We have learned important lessons over the last 18 months about creating healthy environments with multiple layers of protection: doing daily health checks, staying home when sick, practicing hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette, wearing masks, maintaining reasonable social distances, staggering breaks, limiting crowds, using specified entrances and exits and making appointments as visitors.
Our board is committed to ensuring that this high level of safety, and health and wellbeing continues for students and staff.
Our board is also pleased with the most recent revision to the Order of the Provincial Health Officer, Face Coverings (COVID-19), which made masks mandatory for K-to-12 students in B.C. beginning Monday, October 4, 2021. This announcement was made just days after Interior Health resumed posting potential COVID-19 exposures at schools to its website.
For now, we understand that the order concerning masks for all students will be in place until January 2022, at which time it will be reviewed. While masks for our Kindergarten to Grade 3 students will add another layer of protection, Dr. Henry emphasized that it is immunization of those who are eligible that will offer the greatest protection for our children who are too young to be vaccinated.
In addition to vaccination, other reliable methods of protecting our children from COVID-19 are committing to daily health checks and staying home when experiencing symptoms. Families, caregivers, staff, students and all visitors to our schools have a role to play as we are entering that time of year where we all spend more time indoors, and it’s important for everyone to commit to these reliable methods of protection of our most vulnerable.
Beyond what can be done by individuals, our schools have maintained the increased cleaning protocols of high touch surfaces and improved HVAC filters and air flow protocols. When a potential exposure occurs in a school, facility or bus, a deep cleaning, sanitizing and disinfecting of the areas impacted happens before others re-enter.
The Ministries of Education and Health established more restrictive protocols based on rising numbers of COVID-19 cases in the K-3 age group in our communities. While the number of potential exposures to COVID-19 in our schools mirrors community spikes, Interior Health’s contact tracing confirms that the greatest risk of transmission is happening in activities outside of school.
We must all work especially hard, together, to reduce transmission in our schools to maintain full-time in person learning, which we know is best for our students.
Rhonda Kershaw represents Barriere on the Kamloops-Thompson School Board of Trustees.