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New modelling released Tuesday show that last week, 167 cases of COVID-19 were detected among children aged 0-4 in British Columbia, 658 cases in the 5-11 age group and 261 cases in those who are 12 to 17.JONATHAN HAYWARD/The Canadian Press

British Columbia’s top doctor says she is concerned about the increasing infection rates among young children, which she attributes to low vaccination rates in some communities.

Dr. Bonnie Henry also said Tuesday that the province has brought back a school-wide exposure notification system. The move came after parents’ groups pushed for better disclosure of COVID-19 cases and stricter health measures.

Dr. Henry released new modelling on Tuesday that showed COVID-19 cases increasing dramatically among younger children, who are not yet eligible for vaccination. The data show that last week, 167 cases were detected among children aged 0-4, 658 cases in the 5-11 age group and 261 cases in those who are 12 to 17. Four people under 18 were hospitalized with COVID-19 last week.

We have seen an increase in numbers of children in each of those age groups who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in the last week, compared to what we’ve been seeing over the course of the pandemic,” Dr. Henry said.

“It is a concerning trend. This is why it is so important for all of us to pay attention to this.”

Parents in British Columbia call for stricter COVID-19 measures

Dr. Henry also noted that there has been a dramatic increase of school-aged children who are being tested for COVID-19. The rate of those tests that come back positive has gone down in most cases, except for children aged 5-11, where the positivity rate is between five and 10 per cent.

In contrast, areas with low vaccination rates, such as the Fraser Valley, are seeing higher infection rates among children. This is especially the case in the Fraser East region.

Dr. Henry stressed that in order to protect children, people around them need to be vaccinated.

Gordon Lau, chair of the Vancouver District Parent Advisory Council, said he doesn’t think it is enough to assume that the community will get vaccinated in a timely fashion. He said other measures could be put in place to protect children.

Several parent advisory councils in B.C. are calling the provincial government to immediately implement a list of safety measures at schools, including requiring students from kindergarten to Grade 3 to wear masks; rapid testing for students; vaccination requirements for teachers and school staff; and faster and more detailed exposure notifications for parents.

The province resumed releasing information about potential COVID-19 exposures in schools on Tuesday. Dr. Henry said the regional health authorities will start posting K-12 school potential exposure events on their websites and the B.C. Centre for Disease Control’s website will link to regional health authorities.

But Mr. Lau said he’s concerned that aside from returning to the notification system, which the province had already promised, no other substantial measures were announced.

Vancouver School Board voted in favour of mandatary masks for children in kindergarten to Grade 3 on Monday night, becoming the first district in B.C. to go beyond the province’s guidelines.

Laurie Larsen, the Chair of the Surrey Board of Education, said Tuesday afternoon that the board supports extending the mask mandate to younger children as well and that will be discussed at a special board meeting later in the day.

Sarah Otto, a University of British Columbia professor and a member of the B.C. COVID 19 Modelling Group, said allowing infections to grow exponentially in children will eventually spill over to the rest of the community. She said she’s also concerned about the number of children who are being hospitalized.

“There’s still one per cent of children [who test positive who] land in hospital with COVID. That’s a lot of kids in the hospital.”

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