B.C.'s top doctor says most COVID-19 exposures at schools have been low risk

VICTORIA — British Columbia's provincial health officer says most COVID-19 exposure events at schools have been low risk and there has not been any transmission within schools so far.

Dr. Bonnie Henry adds that mechanisms are in place to identify and manage cases of COVID-19 in people associated with schools, including investigating the circumstances of each individual exposure.

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At a news briefing on Monday, Henry also addressed the province's decision to remove certain symptoms from the daily health checklist for schools and parents updated earlier this month.

She says public health officials recommended removing the symptoms, such as a runny nose, given the low probability that they would be a sign of a COVID-19 infection on their own.

In an email, representatives for the Ministry of Health say if someone has any of those symptoms in combination with the symptoms that remain on the checklist, they should be tested for the illness.

They say some of the symptoms removed are very common in children, so there were concerns that kids could be unnecessarily excluded from school.

The symptoms removed from school-related health checks are sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, headache, fatigue, loss of appetite, muscle aches, conjunctivitis, dizziness or confusion, abdominal pain and skin rashes or discolouration of fingers or toes.

Symptoms that remain on the checklist are fever, chills, cough or a worsening chronic cough, shortness of breath, loss of the sense of smell or taste, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting.

The narrower list is reflected in the province's guidelines for kindergarten to Grade 12 schools updated on Sept. 11, which direct parents and caregivers to assess their kids for certain symptoms every day before sending them to school.

The Fraser Health Authority's website lists at least 25 exposures involving more than 10 schools in Surrey as of Sunday. There has also been one reported exposure at Delta Secondary School.

Fraser Health defines an exposure as "a single person with lab-confirmed COVID-19 infection who attended school during their infectious period."

It says a cluster is two or more people with lab-confirmed cases who attended school during the course of their infection, while an outbreak is defined as multiple people with lab-confirmed cases when transmission is likely widespread within the school setting.

The Interior Health website lists a "student case" at an elementary school in Invermere and also at a high school in Castlegar, while Northern Health has reported two exposure events at Quesnel Junior Secondary School and Ecole Frank Ross Elementary. The Vancouver Coastal Health and Island Health websites do not show any reported exposures at this time.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 21, 2020.

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