Contact tracing by Interior Health officials has resulted in several dozen students in Williams Lake schools having to self-isolate starting Monday, Jan. 25.
A handful of students will have to self-isolate from Marie Sharpe’s nature Kindergarten class after someone in the school community tested positive for COVID-19.
One entire class at Mountview Elementary School will have to self-isolate, but no staff, after someone in that school community tested positive for COVID-19. That is the second exposure at that school in a week.
Another class at Nesika Elementary School will have to self-isolate after someone in that school community tested positive for COVID-19. That move is on top of two other Nesika classes that were directed to self-isolate starting Saturday, Jan. 23 following a COVID-19 exposure.
At Columneetza campus, Lake City Secondary School, two Grade 9 classes which make up one smaller cohort, but no staff, were directed to self-isolate starting Monday after someone in that school community tested positive for COVID-19.
The exposure notices come at a time when COVID-19 cases are climbing in the region, along with the anxiety levels of parents.
The Williams Lake Tribune reached out to Interior Health for more clarity on contact tracing and received an emailed response to the question of whether contact tracers were able to keep up with school exposures in Williams Lake.
An IH spokesperson said when a person tests positive for COVID-19, they are notified by text message as soon as results are available. IH said this is the fastest way to confirm their need to self-isolate which gives public health time to contact them directly by phone with further instructions and will begin the contact tracing process.
“Public health works around the clock to identify and notify close contacts who may be at an increased risk, and advise them to self-isolate and monitor for symptoms for 14 days. We understand that parents and staff are proactively notifying the schools and this sometimes creates confusion,” noted the IH spokesperson.
“Through the contact tracing process, we work closely with the COVID-19 positive patient to assess their needs, provide support and trace all of their actions while infectious. Where notifications are required, and as close contacts are identified, contacted, and ordered into isolation, it can take some time for the complete process to occur. This is a very thorough public health assessment each person receives after testing positive for COVID-19.”
If the person was infectious while attending school, Interior Health will then work with the school district to identify potentially exposed cohorts and begin notifying anyone who may have been directly exposed, said IH. Subsequently, a general notification will occur as a secondary measure to give the public a sense of where COVID-19 activity is occurring so they can take extra caution as needed.
The spokesperson said it is important to note: if people do not receive a direct phone call or letter from Interior Health, their child should continue to attend school.
“While we are seeing cases in schools, transmission is generally not happening within the schools themselves thanks to the controlled environments and precautions that are in place. This shows us the plan is working and the majority of students continue to get the education they need in a safe environment.”
All schools within School District 27 are currently open and operating as usual, with the possible exception of the remote Naghtaneqed Elementary Jr Secondary School located at Nemiah, where the community of Xeni Gwet’in First Nation is currently under a lockdown. In that case the school is still open, but is instead working to support the community.
Last week Superintendent Chris van der Mark penned a letter to families recognizing the surge in COVID-19 in the community, however, noted that schools remain safe.
In her Monday morning update, Dr. Bonnie Henry appealed to British Columbians to follow the restrictions in place, including staying home as much as possible, to reduce the transmission of COVID-19. She said COVID-19 numbers in the province are putting a strain on healthcare workers.