Mom says school notification process too slow after son, 10, diagnosed with COVID

A Victoria mother says she’s disappointed in the process that unfolded when her son was diagnosed with COVID-19 after experiencing symptoms on the first day of school.

Elizabete Costa said 10-year-old Lucas had a “tickle” in his throat on Sept. 7, along with other symptoms that she first thought were related to allergies.

But when she went to pick him up from Monterey Middle School on Day 2, he looked awful, was coughing and later developed a fever. She developed similar symptoms the same evening.

Costa said she informed the school and arranged for tests. Lucas tested positive Sept. 10, and his mother also ended up testing positive. Both mother and son are now isolating at home with the Delta variant.

Costa said Island Health did not send a letter to the school community regarding the situation until Sept. 13. The letter said there had been an exposure at Monterey and the level of contagion was low.

“Considering that I’m double-vaccinated and I got sick within six hours of my son, clearly it’s not low contagion there.”

Costa said it was also Sept. 13 when she was first called by contact tracers, and she gave them the only names she had of children Lucas had been in direct contact with.

She said she prefers the system used during the past school year, when lists of school exposures — cases detected during the communicable period of a disease — were included on the Island Health website.

“It keeps parents informed,” Costa said. “You can actually make an informed decision.”

Now only clusters and outbreaks are reported, and there are no longer school-wide notifications via letters over a COVID exposure at a school. Instead, only individuals at risk will be contacted.

A cluster refers to two or more cases in a 14-day period with evidence of transmission within a school, while an outbreak is multiple confirmed cases and signs of ongoing school transmission.

In response to the change, a citizens’ group has established the B.C. School COVID Tracker website and Facebook page.

“Notifying parents about single cases is critical because B.C. contact tracers don’t have the resources to stay ahead of the spread,” the page says.

The site says the information gathered about B.C. schools is confirmed through public-health letters, school letters or the B.C. Centre for Disease Control website. Parents can voluntarily submit information about positive test results.

Since Monday, five Victoria-area schools — among 17 across the Island — have been added to the site’s list of COVID exposures — Cedar Hill Middle, Dunsmuir Middle, Spencer Middle, École Victor-Brodeur and Campus View Elementary.

Island Health said schools are considered low-risk settings for COVID-19 transmission, especially in a highly immunized population. The health agency said it works directly with school staff regarding COVID-19 to identify those who might have been exposed.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has said infection-control measures used in schools last year worked and will continue, but this time vaccination is also a factor. Preventive measures include masks and an emphasis on hand hygiene.

Greater Victoria Teachers’ Association president Winona Waldron said her group has ­concerns about both current and past methods of COVID ­reporting.

Last year, for example, she said that when notices went to all staff and students with every school exposure, there were times things seemed worse than they were.

“But currently, there’s no COVID exposure [information] going out to anyone except those that are deemed to be close ­contacts,” Waldron said. “It’s hard to get a grasp of how big the problem is right now and whether we should be more concerned or not.”

Teachers should have more opportunity to get involved in contact tracing, she said. “I think six-year-olds don’t know who they’ve come in contact with during the day as well as their teacher.”

The association has also called for public release of the numbers of classes and students asked to isolate, and the overall number of staff and students diagnosed with the virus.

jbell@timescolonist.com­

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