Selkirk Montessori School leaders and parents are breathing a collective sigh of relief this morning as a report of measles exposure at the school in Victoria has turned out to be a false alarm.
Penny Barner, executive director of the Pacific Montessori Society, overseeing the 300-student school at 2970 Jutland Rd., said she was crossing her fingers behind her back, all along knowing there was a chance there was no measles exposure.
“It’s a wonderful morning,” Barner said.
Health officials will go ahead with a plan to visit the school from 1 to 4 p.m. today and offer free vaccines to all Selkirk Montessori students and staff.
“Hopefully, we’ll get a really good uptake today,” said Barner. “The vast majority are immunized but we think there will be significant improvement.”
In addition to a few who are not vaccinated, there are students requiring their second measles, mumps and rubella vaccinations and adults who need booster shots to update their immunity, Barner said.
A sibling of a student at the school has tested negative for measles, Island Health chief medical health officer Dr. Richard Stanwick said Monday night. “We’re all very happy about that,” he said. Health and school officials had issued an alert in case the test proved to be positive.
The sibling, who does not attend the school, had shown symptoms of measles, but officials couldn’t be certain until the test was conducted.
In the meantime, by Sunday afternoon, Island Health and school officials issued an alert on the chance that the test proved to be positive. The school sent emails to parents.
A small group of unvaccinated students and a larger group of students from out-of-province — whose immunization records were up-to-date but not yet filed with Island Health — were asked on Monday to stay home.
Parents were told that students who haven’t been vaccinated or didn’t have proof of vaccination would have to stay home for 21 days if the potential case of measles was verified.
“I didn’t’ experience any angry push back form parents,” said Barner. “There was some frustration, obviously, as it was out of their control. And 21 days incubation is quite a long time to have your child out of school for working parents or those with other [commitments].
“I felt for those parents but at that same time we were bound by Vancouver Island Health Authority protocols,” Barner said.
Island Health was on top of the situation from the beginning, Barner said. “It’s reassuring to me that in a health crisis there is someone who has your back and provides protocols that make sure families are safe. It’s a good feeling.”
At Montessori, students in its licensed programs including pre-school and Kindergarten and those in before and after-school programs must provide their immunization records to school administration. That is not the case for students in other grades.
B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix announced in March that as of September schools will require immunization records for all public and private school students.
There are currently six confirmed cases of the measles in the Capital Region.
Since a Lower Mainland outbreak of measles also became an issue for Island Health in March, more than 104,000 letters have been sent to parents advising them that in-school immunization clinics will be held this spring.
For a list of locations where people might have been exposed to measles, go to islandhealth.ca.
Symptoms of measles include fever, runny nose, sore throat, diarrhea, cough and red eyes. A few days after that, there will be a rash that begins on the face and travels to the chest.
Stanwick said the consequences of measles can be “extremely severe,” and vaccination is important.
“We do know one in 3,000 people who contract measles will die of measles,” he said. “This disease is a potential killer. It can cause blindness, it can cause deafness.
“We have a vaccine that should have eliminated the scourge and instead we’re basically playing catch-up.”
The south Island, Duncan, Nanaimo and Salt Spring public-health units are making it a priority to immunize children. Anyone 19 or over should go to a pharmacy, family doctor or travel clinic.
Measles immunizations are free.
The past nine weeks have seen more than 4,900 measles vaccinations given in Island Health’s area — double the total from the same period in 2018.
News that the younger sibling of a Montessori student does not have measles is bitter-sweet, Barner said.
“It’s lucky for us but not for this little [person] as we don’t know what’s ailing [them],” Barner said, on Tuesday morning.