Parents’ groups in British Columbia are asking the provincial government to implement stronger health measures and better tracking of COVID-19 infections in schools.
Children under 10 currently have the highest per capita infection rates in the province, and this is the only age group in which infections are increasing rapidly.
Parent advisory councils in several B.C. school districts sent a joint letter to Health Minister Adrian Dix and Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside. The letter said the groups are “extremely concerned by the increase of COVID cases amongst school-aged children, especially those under the age of 10, since the return to school.”
The letter asks the government to immediately implement a list of measures, including a requirement for 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 numbers are showing that the Delta variant is spiking in elementary age children, and starting without such measures was a mistake that can still be fixed,” Rani Sanghera of Surrey District Parent Advisory Council said on Monday.
Data from the B.C. Centre for Disease Control show that infection rates for children 0-9 have increased by 56 per cent in the past two weeks, while rates in other age groups have fallen or largely levelled off. The second-highest infection rates, in the 40-49 age group, increased by 7 per cent.
Ms. Sanghera said the anxiety among parents started to rise after two schools in the Vancouver area – one in Maple Ridge and the other in Chilliwack – were forced to shut down last week due to COVID-19 outbreaks.
The Vancouver School Board said in a statement that it’s is aware of the letter, and a motion would be brought forward at the board meeting on Monday evening on extending the mask requirement to include Kindergarten to Grade 3.
Janine Fraser, president of the B.C. Primary Teachers’ Association, said those requests from parents are essential to keep schools safe and are aligned with what teachers want.
“I am heartbroken to know the children and families behind the stats who are suffering,” she said.
“The government wanted a normal year, but we are experiencing anything but normal times in the primary years. We have less measures than last year amid a variant that is highly infectious. The line that kids don’t transmit and kids don’t spread it is patently false in schools right now with this variant.”
In March, the B.C. government required all students in Grades 4-12 to wear a mask indoors. In the new school year, the mask policy was reintroduced and face coverings encouraged for younger children. However, cohorts for students have been removed and strict physical distancing is no longer required.
The Ministry of Education referred questions to the Ministry of Health, which did not respond to a request for comment.
Ms. Sanghera said another source of anxiety for parents is exposure notification at schools. Although B.C.’s top doctor, Bonnie Henry said last week that she hoped school-wide notifications of COVID-19 cases would resume by the end of last week, Ms. Sanghera said parents have not yet heard anything.
Dr. Henry previously said B.C. would no longer issue school-wide letters when someone tested positive for the disease. She argued that reporting single cases caused too much anxiety.
We have a weekly Western Canada newsletter written by our B.C. and Alberta bureau chiefs, providing a comprehensive package of the news you need to know about the region and its place in the issues facing Canada. Sign up today.