Burnaby students are fully back from spring break and the number of COVID-19 exposures reported by Fraser Health at local schools has skyrocketed.
There are now 14 Burnaby schools listed by Fraser Health on its exposure tracker (*please note that this site is sometimes behind on posting exposures).
Out of these 14 schools, 12 have multiple exposure dates listed. One, Tayler Park Elementary, have five dates listed.
There are six Burnaby high schools on the list, including Burnaby Central, North, Mountain, South, and Byrne Creek and Moscrop.
Other schools on the list include Armstrong, Cameron, Clinton, Seaforth and Morley.
Independent school Holy Cross Elementary is also on the list.
This rise in school cases comes as teachers’ union presidents in Fraser Health call on the province to take “more aggressive” measures to keep schools safe from COVID-19 in the face of B.C.’s rising third wave.
They’re calling on the province to immediately switch to hybrid learning in the region, to mandate masks for all students and to confirm when teachers will be vaccinated.
Sarah Wethered, president of the New Westminster Teachers’ Union, is one of 12 local presidents who signed the statement issued Thursday, April 8. The statement cites the increasing prevalence of variants of concern in the region (which covers the territory from Burnaby to Boston Bar) and, in particular, B.C.’s status as a “hotspot” for the P1 variant.
“The reality is, those variants are much more contagious, and what worked in October may not work in April,” Wethered said in an interview with the NOW.
The teachers’ statement asks the province to make the switch to Stage 3 of B.C.’s education restart plan in Fraser Health. Under the current Stage 2, most students are in class full-time, with only large high schools (such as New Westminster Secondary) incorporating some remote learning in order to meet the requirements of learning group sizes.
At Stage 3, all schools would shift to a hybrid of online and in-class learning to reduce the numbers of students in classrooms.
TIMING IS KEY FOR SHIFT TO STAGE 3
The teachers’ statement notes “timing is of the essence” for the shift, since the third quarter of the school year is coming to an end and secondary school students will be switching cohorts for the fourth quarter.
“This poses a substantial increased risk for transmission in schools. The quarter turn-around is an opportune moment to implement a phase change to keep our students, their families and staff safe,” the statement reads.
Wethered noted the B.C. Green Party has called for a targeted three-week school shutdown to help put a pause on the current situation – something she said makes a lot of sense. She said New Westminster teachers are ready to return to hybrid or remote learning if and when the word comes from the province.
“We’ve been ready all year. We’ve been forced to be ready all year. If we had to go back to remote learning, we could do it,” she said.
he teachers are also calling for an extension of the existing school mask mandate.
Wethered said she’s grateful for the recent extension of that mask mandate to apply to all grades 4 to 12 students in their classrooms. But she was critical about the confusion caused by the lack of clarity from the provincial health office and the Ministry of Education about whether it was indeed a “mandate” or whether it was a “guideline.”
“There’s a big difference between a mandate and a guideline,” she pointed out.
Moreover, she noted, the new mandate still does not apply to students from kindergarten to Grade 3.
“I was getting a lot of calls from primary teachers saying, ‘Why aren’t we getting that layer of protection that our intermediate, middle and secondary teachers are getting?’” she said.
Wethered sees no problem with the district’s youngest students wearing masks, noting she sees young children at two nearby daycares wearing masks every day, and young children commonly wear them in settings such as grocery stores and doctors’ offices.
VACCINATION STILL UP IN THE AIR
The third and final ask in the teachers’ statement is for clarity around when teachers will be vaccinated. Teachers had been slated to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine as part of B.C.’s essential workers rollout. That came to a halt when the National Advisory Council on Immunization flagged concerns over the safety of the AstraZeneca shot for younger people and B.C. put a pause on that stream of vaccinations.
- With additional reporting by Julie MacLellan