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Families should expect COVID-19 cases in schools, says Canada's top doctor

Last Updated Aug 31, 2020 at 7:48 am CDT

FILE - Chief Public Health Officer of Canada Dr. Theresa Tam speaks during a press conference on COVID-19 at the National Press Theatre in Ottawa, on Monday, March 16, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang)

Families should expect to see cases of COVID-19 in schools, warns Canada's chief public health officer

Dr. Theresa Tam said Friday that such cases would be a reflection of what is happening in the community surrounding them

B.C. teachers want the province to slow down and change back-to-school plans

OTTAWA — Families should expect to see cases of COVID-19 in schools, warns Canada’s chief public health officer.

Dr. Theresa Tam said Friday that such cases would be a reflection of what is happening in the community surrounding them.

“People need to be prepared, with local public health, on exactly what to do when you have case,” she added. “So having a plan is the most important thing, so everyone knows what will happen if you do get a case, and that people won’t be surprised and that they will feel reassured in terms of what will happen.”

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Thursday she also expects COVID-19 cases in schools when students return next month, but that transmission rates in B.C. are low.

“It’s still at a very low level and we expect to see that in our schools,” she added. “This is a very challenging time, and we in public health will be there with every school in this province to make sure that we have a response, that we identify children or adults in the school setting early, and that we have things in place that we need to make sure that we’re doing everything to prevent transmission.”

She said health officials are monitoring what’s happened in other places where students have returned to school, including Scotland, Denmark, Finland, and Germany.

“There’s very likely going to be cases because we have a low level of transmission. So how do we make sure that we’re doing everything we can to minimize that, and that we’re managing them quickly and efficiently, and we’ve shown that we can do that, because this is a long-term thing. We are living with this virus for a long time,” Henry said.

“So we need to work together, we need to use our innovation and our imagination and we need to work with kids and with the adults in our schools, and we will do that, and we’ll get through this. And we will be able to manage it, and I think that’s one of the things that we learned from June when we had introductions into the school. And we were able to manage it, and we managed to quickly and efficiently without transmissions.”

Henry said families and students need to start preparing and planning for going back to school.

“It’s going to be okay, we’re going to work through this,” she added, “It’s important for the new school [year], the look and feel, for us all to get used to … I don’t think there’s any value in postponing that.”

B.C. teachers want the province to slow down and make more changes, such as smaller class sizes, to back-to-school plans for September.

The Education Ministry released its finalized school restart plan on Wednesday, with the goal to maximize in-class instruction, while still keeping students, teachers, and staff safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. Earlier that day, the federal government announced B.C. will receive $242 million to support a safe return to school for all.

The B.C. school restart plan suggests limiting learning groups to 60 in elementary and middle schools and 120 at the secondary level, as well as daily health self-assessments, outdoor and online learning opportunities to aid in physical distancing, and visual cues for traffic in places such as hallways.

Plastic barriers will be added to other places, such as libraries and front desks. The plan also requires masks to be worn by staff, as well as middle and secondary students in high-traffic areas and inside classrooms with limited space, while schools with larger populations will offer a blend of in-class and remote learning. Others will stagger pickup and drop-off times, as well as classroom breaks and lunchtimes.


The BCTF is calling for smaller class sizes and reduced school density to allow for physical distancing, as well as stronger mask regulations for when the latter isn’t possible. The union also wants options for remote learning for students who need it and funding to improve cleaning and ventilation.

B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson also criticized the province’s school restart plan.

B.C. school districts are contacting all families to share safety plans and confirm whether children will be attending classes in September, or if they require online options.

When schools in B.C. partially reopened this past spring, two teachers tested positive for the virus.

As of Thursday, B.C. reported 204 deaths related to COVID-19 overall, and 5,372 cases. The province also started reporting multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children, which B.C.’s top doctor says has been associated in some parts of the world with COVID-19.

Henry reported the first eight cases of suspect mis-c on. The average age of those infected was four. All were hospitalized, while two were treated in intensive care. But all survived.