Schools fill an important role in our society. They are where our children spend a lot of their day for 10 months of the year, learning and socializing with their peers. Most BC children are back to in-person learning this year. However, the COVID-19 context is daunting this school year. Case counts are consistently high in the community. The more transmissible and severe Delta variant is circulating, and children under 12 are not able to be vaccinated yet.
What does the science say about COVID-19, children, and schools? What measures can we use to make these congregate settings safer so that in-person learning can continue to happen without disruption from COVID-19? How can we ensure that school buildings are safe enough to be inclusive of all children, including ones from families that are more vulnerable to COVID-19 due to medical conditions?
Facilitator: Jennifer Heighton, teacher and education advocate, co-founder of Safe Schools Coalition BC
- Dr. James Heilman, Emergency Physician
- Dr. Lyne Filiatrault, Retired Emergency Physician
- Michelle Naef, P.Eng, PhD candidate at the University of Alberta, in the David and Joan Lynch School of Engineering, Safety and Risk Management
- Elizabete Costa, parent, member of Safe Schools Coalition BC
Highlights from this briefing
Summary of Key Points
- Children can catch COVID, with serious long term consequences.
- BC Schools have significantly more exposure notifications compared to last year.
- How we can keep children safe from COVID-19?
Children can catch COVID and there are serious consequences when that happens.
Children can catch and transmit COVID-19 and can experience severe outcomes including hospitalizations, ICU and death. With the return to school in September 2021, there has been a significant increase in cases in elementary school children, especially grades K-3, who did not have a mask mandate.
We have also seen an associated increase in cases in the age groups of parents of unvaccinated children. Between September 5, 2021 and Oct 9, 2021 26% of the increase in the number of cases in BC was amongst children aged 0-19. Children can also get Long Covid. The long-term consequences and treatments for Long Covid are mostly unknown at this time. In BC, we do not track Long Covid data.
BC Schools have significantly more exposure notifications in 2021, compared to last year.
Between October 1st and 25th, the number of exposure notifications went from 203 in 2020 to 1379 in 2021. Individual parents have taken it upon themselves to collect and report school exposure notifications. Many of the exposures reported by parents have not been included in the official Health Authority exposure notification numbers, which suggests that we do not have a true representation of the total number of school exposures.
How we can keep children safe from COVID-19?
About half of children with COVID have no noticeable symptoms. Many cases go unrecognized in BC because we only test symptomatic cases. Furthermore, many testing centres closed over the summer and didn’t reopen in the fall, despite the increase in cases, making it more difficult for families and their children to get tested.
Data from the CDC in December 2020 showed that in places where effective measures to protect our children, such as consistent use of masks, testing, ventilation and air filtration, the risk remains low.
In Ontario and Quebec, more layers of protection have been adopted, including CO2 monitors and High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters in every classroom. As a result, their number of cases didn’t increase as school reopened in the Fall. Rapid testing for students is also available in most Canadian provinces, but not in BC.
Existing school air systems can easily be optimized to ensure adequate ventilation and filtering.
POP-BC supports the implementation of the following measures to keep our schools safe and protect our children from COVID and Long Covid:
- Universal, high-quality masks
- HEPA filters and enhanced ventilation
- CO2 monitoring
- Remote learning options
- Regular testing of both symptomatic and asymptomatic individuals
- Test / trace / isolate triad
- Provincial school staff vaccination mandate