With a two-week spring break right around the corner, School District 28 superintendent Sue-Ellen Miller says the situation could change when schools reconvene and families come back from travelling, but for now, while the district continues to monitor COVID-19 closely and work on pandemic planning, there is no change to school operations.
“A lot of work’s been happening in the province around COVID-19; one of the things I want everyone to know is today, the World Health Organization called it a pandemic, and one of the things Dr. Bonnie Henry, the provincial health officer, said is there’s no difference for us in our schools or in our community at this time because we’ve been actually preparing as if it was a pandemic or it was going to happen — the spread has been happening in certain parts of the province or the country or the world, and they could predict that was going to happen,” Miller told the board of education Wednesday, March 11 during the regular board meeting.
“Right now, there are no cases in our community, so there is no reason to do anything different in terms of keeping schools open or closed. But we are heading into spring break, which will be good for those kids who aren’t travelling, but we may see a change after the spring break when people have done lots of travelling and been all over the place.”
Board of education chairperson Dave Chapman provided a message to parents, guardians and staff Friday, March 13 to ensure they were aware of the current advisory against non-essential travel outside of Canada, which was announced Thursday, March 12.
“Please be aware the Provincial Health Officer is advising against all non-essential travel outside of Canada, including the United States,” Chapman wrote in the letter, which was shared Friday afternoon on the school district’s Facebook page. “If you do travel outside of Canada, you are asked to self-isolate (stay away from school or work) for 14 days upon your return to B.C. We hope all community members will see this as their civic duty and comply with the self-isolating protocol … students required to stay home do not need to worry about missing school. They will have opportunities to catch up once they return.”
Chapman says the district will continue to provide communications to parents, guardians and staff as updates become available through the School District 28 website and through the district’s Facebook page.
“Quesnel School District’s top priority is the safety of our students and staff,” he said.
At the board meeting, Miller told trustees that the district has sent out COVID-19 recommendations for students, parents and guardians through direct mailings to every parent for whom they had an email address and through newsletters.
“Right now, Dr. Bonnie Henry keeps telling us the best thing we can do is practise really good hygiene, make sure students are washing their hands, make sure we’re keeping our hands away from our faces, and stay home if you’re sick,” she said. “They are talking now about social distancing, but right now, we are not aware of any cases in our community, and I think the one thing we’ve heard from the provincial health officer is they’re been very transparent. Every time a case is identified, they’re talking about it every day at three o’clock in a news conference, so we can rest assured that if there was a case in our community, we would be informed.”
Miller says there are several helpful documents on the B.C. Centre for Disease Control website, such as questions and answers for children and students, to offer things parents can say to help their children. She was directed to this information in the March 6 bulletin from the deputy minister of education, and that bulletin also offered school superintendents some planning tools.
Miller told trustees that earlier that day, district staff reviewed the provincial pandemic response.
“It’s no different than when we had [H1N1] many years ago in 2009, and at that time, we wrote our own pandemic response, and so, in looking at these two documents, comparing them, it’s clear that even though it’s been declared a pandemic, we are still in the pre-pandemic planning stages,” she said.
To continue this planning, Miller says the district will hold a meeting with its pandemic planning committee as soon as possible after spring break. This committee includes the superintendent, secretary-treasurer, director of operations, a health and safety committee representative, the school board chair and vice-chair, and representatives from the District Parent Advisory Committee, the Quesnel District Teachers Association, CUPE and the Principals and Vice-Principals Association. Miller says they will also try to include the Northern Medical Health Officer by phone or connect after the meeting.
“We’ll review the plan,” said Miller. “If there is no new information from the ministry or the provincial health officer, we’ll just make sure we know what our plan entails and take a look at some of the cleaning and those kind of expectations around COVID-19, so that when we do have a case, if a case happens in the schools, we’ll be well prepared.”
As of the Friday, March 12 briefing from the Provincial Health Officer and the Ministry of Health, there are now 64 cases of COVID-19 in B.C. and still none in the Northern Health region.
Eleven new cases were announced March 12, all within the Vancouver Coastal Health region, including three staff members at the Lion’s Gate Hospital. The 64 total cases include 39 in the Vancouver Coastal Health region, 23 in the Fraser Health region, one on Vancouver Island and one in the Interior Health region.
According to Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, two of B.C.’s COVID-19 patients are being treated in hospital, six have recovered and one person has died.
Henry also announced Friday that the B.C. government’s ban on gatherings with more than 250 attendees will be upgraded to a provincial order, which will allow organizers to recoup cancellation costs through insurance policies.
— with files from Ashley Wadhwani