With COVID-19 cases at Nanaimo high schools and a semester change imminent, the teachers’ union fears there could be further spreading of the disease.
Within the past week, Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools has announced two COVID-19 cases at Dover Bay Secondary School and one at John Barsby Secondary. The district is employing a quarterly system in 2020-21 and with a new semester set to begin Monday, Nov. 16, Denise Wood, Nanaimo District Teachers’ Association president, hopes more safeguards are put in place.
Currently, masks are mandatory for high school students in high-traffic areas and voluntary for in-class situations, and voluntary across the board for elementary school students.
“I’m concerned that if a student tests positive … and it’s determined that they’ve been at school both this week and last week, and that they’re exposure dates, they’re now going to be looking at double the number of possible contacts that would be exposed,” Wood said. “We’re suggesting that one way the district could correct that is to have mandatory masks in high schools for the next two weeks, so that it would minimize any chance of exposure.”
Dale Burgos, Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools’ spokesperson, said the district follows health official directives, which currently aren’t calling for increased mask usage. Students are being advised to perform daily health checks and stay home if they’re not feeling well, or feeling COVID-19 symptoms, Burgos said, and there is a plan in place in the event of a spike in cases.
He said the school district will take direction from the health authority.
“What we’ve had right now is a cluster at Dover Bay and an exposure at John Barsby … in terms of an outbreak, in very high-level terms, we would essentially take the advice of what Island Health says,” Burgos said. “If it’s that we have to shut down a school, then we would do so. If we would have to shut down a specific cohort, however many students that it would be, and that they stay home, then we would do that as well. There’s nothing at the district level to make that decision.”
When asked about whether there has been consideration to making masks mandatory in all areas of schools, the B.C. Ministry of Health said, in an e-mail, that a mask is only one layer of the protections needed to limit the spread of COVID-19.
Schools have their own safety protocols that include instances in which staff and middle and high school students must wear masks. Young people are resilient and adaptable and many are already wearing masks routinely, the ministry said.
In her Nov. 12 media briefing, Dr. Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer, said that as of Nov. 5, there have been 261 school exposures in all of B.C.’s 1,942 schools.
“We’ve had very few transmissions within a school setting, so despite the fact that we’ve had 261 exposures … there have been less than a dozen incidents where there’s been transmission within the school setting,” Henry said.
She suggested that means that measures in place are working.
Burgos said the district purchased disinfectant spray machines for each school to enhance cleaning and custodial staff are working around the clock.