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COVID-19 positive person was at Burnaby elementary school every day last week

Less delay, more transparency needed in school exposure notices, says a Burnaby senior in close contact with a teacher at Kitchener Elementary School.
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Someone infected with COVID-19 was at a Burnaby elementary school every day last week – and a senior who is in close contact with a teacher at the school says its response should have been faster and more transparent.

Parents at Kitchener Elementary School got a notification Thursday evening saying the infected individual had been at the school from Oct. 26 to 30.

“Receiving this letter does not mean you have been exposed to COVID-19,” stated the notice. “Case(s) have been isolated, and there is no direct exposure risk at this time.”

Fraser Health directed parents to keep sending their kids to the school and to continue monitoring them for COVID symptoms while health authority contact tracers work to identify any staff or students who need to self-isolate or self-monitor for symptoms.

Only those directly exposed to COVID-19 at the school will be contacted by public health, according to the notice.

Along with the Fraser Health letter, Kitchener parents got a notice from principal Dino Klarich saying, for privacy reasons, the school couldn’t provide any more information about the infected individual except to say they were self-isolating at home with support from Fraser Health.

But David Huntley said that’s not good enough.

A teacher at the school stays with him part time, he told the NOW, and, at age 84, he is “very much in the at-risk age group” for COVID-19, he said.

He said the teacher who stays with him told him Kitchener’s administration knew about the exposure Thursday morning but didn’t tell staff until after school that day and didn’t notify parents until later that evening.

“This is most unsatisfactory,” Huntley said. “Teachers, particularly those living with elderly parents or immune-compromised children, need transparency. As far as I am concerned any teacher should stay home until more information is provided so that risk can be evaluated.  The risk is very different if the infected individual is another teacher, a student’s parent, a student in a separate building or a student in your cohort.”

Huntley said he doesn’t trust Fraser Health’s no-news-is-good-news approach, which says those who don’t hear from public health don’t need to worry.

“In an ideal world it might be good enough, but I do not trust any authorities to do what they need to on a timely basis,” Huntley wrote. “These are the same authorities who have let the virus get out of control here.”

He pointed to the apparent eight-hour delay before the school told Kitchener families about the exposure and the fact that the exposure hadn’t been posted on Fraser Health’s school exposures webpage.

At a teleconference Tuesday, Fraser Health chief medical health officer Dr. Elizabeth Brodkin said school exposures are added to the online list the day after the positive case is identified.

“They’re identified as being linked to a particular school, and it’s not until the following day that that information actually goes out up on our website,” she said.

And, despite an alarming jump in overall cases in recent weeks, especially in the Fraser Health region, Brodkin said, “Transmission is less likely to take place in a school setting than in other settings, and there are good COVID safety plans in place, which have helped to keep students and their families and the teachers safe.”

While there are a “very significant number of exposures” at schools, according to Brodkin, only a “very few of them have gone on to result in transmission,” she said.

The Burnaby school district said it got the notice about the exposure from Fraser Health at 4:35 p.m. yesterday and notified parents within two hours.

If Kitchener’s administration or the district knew about the positive case earlier, Ministry of Education protocols for dealing with confirmed cases would have prevented them from announcing the exposure before being directed to do so by Fraser Health.

“To ensure personal privacy rights are maintained and that information provided is complete and correct, schools and school districts/authorities should not provide any public statements or communications to staff or students’ families about potential or confirmed COVID-19 cases unless they are directed to do so by the school medical officer (Fraser Health) or delegate,” states a document titled COVID-19 Protocols for School and District Administrators: Management of Illness and Confirmed Cases. “In these circumstances, communications must be reviewed by the school medical officer or delegate prior to release,”

Huntley, however, said he doesn’t understand the privacy concerns.

“Why the concerns about privacy?” He asked. “Nobody has that concern about privacy for a cold, influenza or measles. (HIV is a different matter because of the modes of infection.)  There is no shame in being infected with COVID-19.”

Follow Cornelia Naylor on Twitter @CorNaylor