Kids sit in a classroom, but there are COVID virus particles floating in the air.

Photo Credit: skynesher | VanIsle.News Staff

Are Our Schools Safe?

There are no more COVID protections in schools

We were told transmission wasn’t really happening in schools, now we know that wasn’t true

Kids are getting COVID at school.

But since the pandemic began, health leaders in BC have told us that COVID transmission in schools is low.

Between September and December 2020, Dr. Bonnie Henry told parents that there weren’t many outbreaks in schools.

That message stayed the same through the spring of 2021. “Schools are relatively low transmission environments,” Dr. Henry said in a press conference in April 2021.

Just a month ago, in September, Dr. Henry said that most kids who got COVID didn’t get it at school.

That message was repeated like a mantra.

But we already had reason to question those political talking points. Why? Because they conflicted with the actual numbers.

For one, before Omicron hit, kids were getting COVID more than anyone else in Canada.

Plus, two BC moms were tracking COVID exposures in schools. And there were a lot of them.

Now we know we were right to be concerned, thanks to an article by the Capital Daily and Burnaby Beacon.

The article published snippets of emails sent between Dr. Henry and other provincial health leaders in December 2020.

“Could you please give me some of the stats from your school assessments for the media brief today,” she asks in an email. “We need to be able to give some data that supports what we keep saying transmission in schools is low.”

Wait, isn’t that backward?

Aren’t you supposed to get the data and then report on what the data says?

Why is a health leader cherry-picking data to tell a story about schools that might not be true?

Fast forward to April 2021, and things get worse. Dr. Richard Stanwick is Island Health’s chief medical officer. He wrote to Dr. Henry about a “significant spike” in COVID in Victoria schools.

He called COVID numbers in schools “daunting.”

We’ve been told that data about school transmission isn’t excellent. But we also know from leaked reports that hundreds of students were infecting each other in Fraser Health in the winter of 2021.

All of this is confusing. But one question is clear: are our schools safe?

The truth is, we don’t know.

We know that bringing fresh air into closed rooms can help dilute the COVID virus and keep people from getting sick. So VanIsle.News wrote to school boards up Island to see what they had done to improve school ventilation.

What did we find out?

School District 71, School District 72, and School District 84 have all upgraded their ventilation systems. They’ve also done things like put HEPA filters in portables and other rooms that aren’t connected to the central HVAC system.

So that means kids in places like Comox Valley, Campbell River, and Tahsis have cleaner air in their classrooms.

We didn’t hear back from School District 70 in Pacific Rim—Port Alberni, or School District 85 on northern Vancouver Island.

Does that mean some regional people, like school board superintendents, took more responsibility for protecting kids than the province’s chief medical officer?

Without good leadership from officials like Dr. Bonnie Henry, it’s hard to know whether our schools are safe.

Confusing messages about low transmission and insufficient data fly in the face of parents’ actual experience. It’s bad for trust, and it’s bad for public health.

How are we supposed to make good decisions to protect our kids during cold, flu, and now COVID season if we can’t trust the information we get from our public health leaders?

These are questions that need answers. Especially if a wave of new variants is heading our way.