COVID-19 transmission possible when schools reopen, but B.C. is prepared, Henry says
VANCOUVER -- With students and teachers set to return to B.C. classrooms on Monday for the first time since March, the provincial health officer said Saturday that limited transmission of COVID-19 in schools is "possible," but that the province is prepared for it.
Speaking to reporters during her update on the province's response to the coronavirus pandemic, Dr. Bonnie Henry was asked about the virus spreading to several students in Quebec after that province reopened its schools.
Henry said she had spoken to her counterparts in Quebec and that the spread of the virus - in a limited way - was "not unexpected" there.
"It is possible and I would not be surprised if we did have one or two cases, perhaps, arise in our schools in the coming weeks," Henry said. "But that's okay. We know how to deal with this, we know that it is not easily spread, and we know we can prevent it by putting in place the measures that we have in our schools, and it's going to be a bit of a challenge."
The provincial health officer said her colleagues in Quebec had said the spread to students in schools happened mostly from adults - teachers or other staff members.
"Most often, it was an adult who brought the virus inadvertently into the situation," Henry said. "So, this is why we need to continue to be so vigilant about any risks that we might have to coming in contact with COVID, or if we are feeling unwell ourselves, to have that very low threshold (for staying home)."
Children - in B.C. and around the world - have tended to be less likely than adults to contract COVID-19 and more likely to have mild infections when they do, Henry said.
An illness similar to Kawasaki disease that health officials believe is likely related to COVID-19 has been detected in some children who have had the virus around the world, but none in B.C. so far. Asked about that illness earlier this month, Henry said B.C. health officials are monitoring it.
"Pediatricians and clinicians know what to look for and parents need to be aware of it as well," she said at the time.
Students are not required to attend school in-person on Monday. It's up to parents to decide whether to send their children back for in-classroom instruction.
Teachers and school districts have spent the last few weeks preparing for the reopening, doing things like spacing desks two metres from each other and taping arrows to the floor to show students how to move through the classroom while maintaining distance from each other.
Earlier this week, Vancouver schools superintendent Suzanne Hoffman said about 40 per cent of her district's students would be returning for in-person instruction, but that number varies from school to school.
Henry characterized the reopening as a learning experience for teachers, students and health officials.
"It is important for us to start this voluntary in-class instruction now to support those children and families who need it," Henry said. "And there are many of those around this province. But it is a cautious approach that we're taking, and this cautious approach, as well, will help us learn and help us understand and have the tools that we need for a broader reopening come September."
At the same time, Henry said she was confident that reopening schools on June 1 is the right decision.
"We purposely timed the reopening of schools to be sure that we had a period of time ... to see if we were going to start seeing increased numbers of cases in our communities once we started our restart program," Henry said. "If we had seen an increase, then we would have postponed or delayed the start of schools."
"We are ready for this," she said. "We are reopening schools because it is safe to do so."