The Surrey school district was offering childcare for kids of essential service workers at four school sites. Classrooms have six to seven students in each, keeping with the social distancing rules. (File photo: Lauren Collins)

Education

What happens at a Surrey school when someone tests positive for COVID-19?

Surrey Schools Superintendent explains step-by-step process for notifying the community

During Wednesday’s (Sept. 16) first school board meeting since June, Superintendent Jordan Tinney tweeted out a letter advising the community of the district’s fifth COVID-19 exposure at one of its 131 schools.

The latest was Princess Margaret Secondary School after a person, who tested positive, had attended the school on Friday (Sept. 11).

READ ALSO: Surrey’s Princess Margaret the latest school with possible COVID-19 exposure, Sept. 17, 2020

“It seems to be this is really becoming our almost daily work. There are calls every single day about us going to a school,” said Tinney. “I think that is a sign of times to come, and we should expect that at many, many schools to come.”

But he added in a district of 131 schools and a city of half a million people, “stuff is going to happen.”

On Wednesday, Fraser Health was the first of the health authorities in the province to launch its webpage for COVID-19 exposures at schools.

They are broken down by district and then whether it was an exposure, a cluster and an outbreak.

An exposure is a single person with a confirmed positive case who attended school during the infectious period.

A cluster is “two or more” people with positive cases who were at the school during their infectious period.

An outbreak is “multiple” people with positive cases and transmission “is likely widespread within the school setting.”

READ ALSO: B.C. to begin publicly listing COVID-19 school exposure events, Sept. 16, 2020

As part of his “school start-up” presentation at the meeting, Tinney gave a step-by-step explanation of what happens when there is a positive case at a school.

“In a basic flow-chart type of way, we get informed that there’s a case by Fraser Health,” explained Tinney. “They are the ones who tell us. Lots of people tell us, ‘I got tested positive for COVID,” but it’s (Fraser Health’s) confirmation that we look for.”

He said from there, Fraser Health shares the name of the infected person with the school’s principal, who then works with the individual and the school community “to ask who was a close contact of that person, who actually maybe worked with them in a room, was a student in a room… for a long period of time.”

That list, Tinney said, is then given to Fraser Health for contact tracing to figure out “who is officially needing to isolate or to just monitor symptoms or not to worry.”

He said the district will then write up the letters for the staff and school community, and meet with the unions and school for the staff meeting.

“We’ve been pretty public with sharing which schools have a positive case attached to them.”

But Tinney added that “things are always tricky.”

“It remains an evolving world. It is an interesting September, but honestly, I feel extremely good about where we are.”

Trustee Garry Thind asked Tinney what would happen for students isolating, such as if the district would be providing remote learning opportunities for the students.

Tinney said the district is “obligated to provide them with a program,” but he said what it looks like is the question.

He said the district doesn’t want it to be a situation in June where teachers are working with one half of their students in class and the other half at home.

“For teachers to have these large packages, potentially for lots of students or go entirely online, it’s going to really require some planning.”

The Now-Leader asked the district what it would take for a school to be shut down, but said it would be up to either Fraser Health or the health or education ministries,

On Sept. 10, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said she doesn’t “foresee a situation where a system would have to close down.

READ ALSO: ‘It is a pandemic’: B.C. health minister defends school plan, but says cases are inevitable, Sept. 15, 2020

“That would mean that we are in dire straights in many other aspects of our community and that’s what we’re trying to absolutely avoid.”

She added there are a couple of scenarios where schools would have to close or learning cohorts would have to self-isolate.

“If there was multiple exposures or transmission between adults in a school setting and there wasn’t sufficient staff left to safely operate the school,” Henry explained.

”We’ve seen that happen with influenza outbreaks, we’ve seen that happen in other parts of the world where schools have reopened where teachers are getting together and inadvertently — I mean, people don’t do this on purpose — but where they can transmit the virus between each other and then others would be in an exposed situation so they would have to be home and quarantined.”



lauren.collins@surreynowleader.com

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