Wednesday December 29, 2021 | VICTORIA, BC [Updated Dec 29, 2021 at 6:55 pm & with SD62 comment added Dec 30, 2021; further SD62 notes added Jan 1, 2022]
by Mary P Brooke | Island Social Trends
Today Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside joined Provincial Health Officer Dr Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix to announce that K-12 students will have a phased return to class in January 2022 after winter break.
Teachers will be back in class January 3 and 4, along with children of essential workers (e.g. teachers, health-care workers, and others) and children with special needs. All other students are to return to school on Monday January 10.
The week of January 3 is to be used by teachers and administration to adapt to the latest version of health and safety guidance (updates to public health orders and K12 COVID guidelines); school districts will be communicating out to families about how this process will work.
Many of the changes are back to what was used earlier in the pandemic, e.g. spacing between people, wearing masks in classrooms, staggering arrival/dismissal and recess, etc.
Cleaning of surfaces will still be once a day as it already has been in 2021-2022 (not twice a day as was the case earlier in the pandemic).
Enhanced safety measures:
K-12 public and independent schools must implement enhanced safety measures, such as:
- Implement strategies that prevent crowding during class transition times.
- Hold school gatherings and events (e.g., assemblies, etc.) virtually. If they must be in-person, limit the number of people to no more than 50% operating capacity.
- Hold staff-only gatherings (e.g., meetings, professional development activities) virtually whenever possible.
- Limit visitors to those who are supporting activities that directly benefit student learning and well-being (e.g., teacher candidates, immunizers, meal program volunteers, etc.).
- Pause extracurricular sports tournaments.
Best learning in classrooms:
Dr Henry emphasized that this is not a return to remote learning. She has held a priority throughout the pandemic to keep in-class learning possible.
Continuity plans will be developed by teachers and school administration amidst increased absenteeism (as staff with COVID will need to stay home).
The guidelines build on existing protocols that have succeeded in minimizing the spread of the virus in schools, such as:
- Encouraging everyone who is eligible to get fully vaccinated.
- Using available space to spread out and to respect personal space.
- Wearing masks in accordance with Provincial Health Officer Order on Face Coverings:
- Cleaning hands regularly.
- Cleaning and disinfecting all surfaces at least once a day.
The school district for the west shore area of Vancouver Island (Sooke School District SD62) has adhered to public health protocols throughout the pandemic. Some ventilation improvements have been made across their 26 SD62 schools since last year (some of that with the one-time federal education support grants for COVID-related needs).
“We continue to take direction from public health regarding health and safety guidelines,” said SD62 Superintendent Scott Stinson today. “We will be able to make the necessary adjustments under these revised directions,” he said regarding the staggering of arrival/dismissal and recess times and arranging classrooms for more space between people.
As for the phased-in return to school in the week of January 3 to 7, Stinson says: “The pause will be helpful for schools to plan for learning continuity should student or staff absences warrant the need for a temporary functional school closure. Time to plan for this possibility will be helpful for the system.”
In SD62, January 4 to 7 will not be an instructional week; students with disabilities and diverse abilities and the children of parents who work in health-care or other essential services (as school district capacity allows) will be welcomed back. That way, all students are likely to be on the same page in terms of curriculum. No buses will be running except the Accessibility buses for students with disabilities.
The Cowichan Valley School District (SD79) says that as announced by Dr Henry and the Ministry: “The phased restart is to give districts time to plan for the arrival of students, assess workforce issues, and develop continuity of learning plans.”
“The Board and staff, both in school and at the district level, will be hard at work during that time to plan for the best restart for students when they return on January 10,” says SD79 Director of Communications Mike Russell.
BC Teachers response:
“We are pleased to hear that the BC government has ordered a phased reopening of K-12 schools to allow for planning and implementation of new safety measures, including staggered start times, reduced density, and virtual meetings,” said BC Teachers Federation (BCTF) President Teri Mooring in a statement on Twitter this afternoon.
“It was also great to hear the Minister reiterate the importance of mask compliance, as that is something we’ve heard has been a significant issue in many BC school districts,” she said.
“Many questions remain for (the BC Government), including what a rapid testing strategy will look like, as well as how (K-12) public notification of exposures and clusters will change in light of the new variant,” said Mooring.
“We were disappointed that the announcement offered no indication that boosters will be fast-tracked for #BCed (K-12), nor did Minister Whiteside commit to making N95 masks available in schools or proactively addressing the outstanding ventilation concerns in many schools,” Mooring concluded.
The Omicron variant of the COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) virus has been spreading rapidly in BC. The COVID new-case numbers today were 2,944, with 1,785 yesterday, and a 2,096 daily average over the three-day Christmas long weekend (total 6,288 over three days).
On Vancouver Island there were 283 new cases yesterday, with 737 over the three-day weekend (average of 245 per day).
The Omicron variant spreads more easily than Delta or the original Alpha. It appears to cause less severe illness than the earlier viral variants, but that could also be because most people are vaccinated.
People who are unvaccinated (and also if they had COVID infection before) are 10 times more likely to become infected with the Omicron variant, Dr Henry said today.
People who are vaccinated are still getting infected and experiencing illness, but the rate of hospitalization does not seem to be going up so far.
Last week — and again today — Dr Henry said that everyone can expect to be exposed to the Omicron variant (it’s just a matter of time). If you are exposed to a “close contact” Dr Henry said today that you do *not* need to isolate, but to pay attention for 14 days.
The advice is to follow all public health protocols at this time, including wearing a good mask, keeping distance from people, meet only in small gatherings (if at all), work from home where possible, staying home if you can (even if not sick), frequent hand-washing, and getting your COVID-19 vaccine booster dose (third shot) as soon as your 6-month interval period has passed.
If you do get sick:
If you do become ill with a COVID infection, the Omicron variant will likely produce a milder illness (compared to previous variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus). Dr Henry said today to “stay away, rest at home, drink plenty of fluids and eat well, and seek help if required”.
Testing is robust:
Today Minister Dix said that 19,681 COVID lab tests were done during December 24 to 25. Over the Christmas weekend about 75,000 lab tests were done; nurses were working at collection stations.
People with symptoms are more likely to test positive. The positivity rate in BC is at 14.49 percent today (rolling average over seven days). Seven days ago the average was 10 percent and yesterday it was 20 percent, said Dix today.
In Island Health today the positive rate is 15.7 percent (the highest yet).
Today 15,562 COVID tests were reported in BC for December 29 (1,600 of those in Island Health).
Vaccination is robust:
Today Minister Dix said the booster campaign is strong, and Dr Henry said it’s a bit farther ahead than was planned for year-end 2021.
To date, 9,337,772 people have received COVID vaccination shots in BC; a second dose has been received by 4,111,560 people.
In Island Health, 1,567,952 doses have been administered (of which 679,819 have been second doses).
Children ages 5 to 11 years have received 125,267 COVID shots of the Pfizer pediatric vaccine (131 are second doses. In Island Health, kids age 5 to 11 have received 23,294 doses (15 are second doses).
===== BC HEALTH LINKS:
About COVID-19 vaccines for children: https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/covid-19/vaccine/children
Addendum to the Provincial COVID-19 Communicable Disease Guidelines:
High case numbers Dec 29 as Omicron spreads (December 29, 2021)
Dec 28: another 1,785 COVID cases in BC (December 28, 2021)
Three days of Xmas tallies 6,288 BC COVID cases (December 27, 2021)