On Thursday we registered sixty exposure letters and several multiple exposures in schools. Hollyburn Elementary School, from my old district, isolated a class after an exposure. Yet no masks are required in the elementary school A judge is questioning the PHO’s tactic of putting the church case before the Supreme Court. The Prime Minister is challenging this province’s non-deployment of over one million rapid tests which have sat in a warehouse and are about to expire. The percentage of total cases represented by children has risen from 7.8% in September to 19.7% in February. The number of variant cases in the province is 46 and rising including the first Nigerian variant! The time has come to raise some critical questions on how BC is dealing with this pandemic.
We are constantly told that “schools are safe”. The commentary goes on to say that schools simply reflect their community and transmission in schools is low. Recently three out of six Nanaimo schools with cases reached the level of ‘clusters’ which means in those three there was transmission. These students were obviously carrying the virus into the community and into their homes which squares with the research from the U.K. that clearly states schools are vectors of transmission in the community. We see in Newfoundland that the High School was the start of the outbreak that has caused the disruption in their election, so clearly transmission occurs in schools and has consequences. The questions that arise are: What does ‘low’ mean when referring to schools? Why does our PHO not accept the research that schools are vectors of transmission in communities? And, most importantly why do we accept the high numbers of exposures in our schools?
This of course bring us to the ridiculous mask policy. Students who are in grades six and seven must wear masks if they are in a middle school but not if they are in an elementary school! Say what? We are isolating a whole classis in an elementary school but the children do not have to wear masks, yet they would have to wear them if grade eight was part of the school configuration. This is the most ridiculous, disjointed policy to be foisted on the education system and it endangers the community. The question is why do we have the weakest mask policy in Canada and why do we accept such disjointed rulings?
Of course, we claim to being highly effective because our schools are open, which we all want. But are we effective when children have doubled as a percentage of our total cases? If we wanted to make schools safe, we would have used those rapid testing kits that are languishing in a warehouse. The PHO claims they are not reliable and difficult to use, but, when we had the variant show up in Garibaldi the rapid tests were suddenly important and easy to use. The question is: why aren’t we using them on a continual basis rather than letting them expire?
I believe teaching is one of the most honourable professions in which we ask people to work. Right now, we place all teachers in work environments that are unacceptable in any other industry. Social distancing is non-existent. We ask them to stay in crowded rooms where social distancing is not possible, masks are not worn, and ventilation is substandard. Last week in some classrooms the temperature plummeted to single digit Celsius during the polar vortex because windows were required to be kept open. Because of the imposed cohort ruling, these teachers are often in those crowded classrooms for over two hours with the same students some of whom are asymptomatic. I hear lots of platitudes directed to teachers from our politicians and health officials but that is all they are: platitudes! If we were serious, we would be directing resources to enable social distancing. The question is: why do we not value the work of our teachers and other in-school professionals enough to provide them with working conditions that we ensure are in place for every other essential service?
We are consistently seeing over four hundred new cases per day and deaths per day ranging from six to the teens. We have one of the lowest vaccine rates in the country and we now have over nine hundred schools with exposures. We seem inured to this data and somehow find it acceptable. Yet we have examples throughout the world where the countries refused to accept such numbers and have had much greater success in tackling this virus. New Zealand, Australia, Bhutan, Vietnam, and South Korea come to mind. The question is: are we taking the right approach here in BC or should we pursue zero Covid?
Perhaps there is one final critical question we should all consider. We have been dealing with this virus for over a year. Even the PHO says that we are doing very well in adhering to the guidelines. The Government has insisted on keeping ski resorts open when they are hot spots. The Government has refused to add a week to school vacations to stop the exposures and spread. The virus exposed the vulnerabilities at our long-term care homes where we failed to use all of our testing capabilities. Our testing has been consistently one of the lowest in the country. We still have the weakest mask policy in schools in our nation. Our percentage of vaccinations is also behind other provinces. We do not have access to the Covid app that other provinces have and even the national health officer is critical of our refusal to release data in a timely manner. Unlike Manitoba, we refuse to tackle the concerns arising from inter-provincial travel. All of this keeps our case numbers over 400 per day, our daily deaths too often in the teens, the variants on the rise and the percentage of child cases on an unnerving upward trend. The final critical question is: should we be questioning the competency of our Government and PHO?
Doug Player, February 14, 2021.