While several schools in the Comox Valley have been added to Island Health’s exposure list of late, the number of people affected is going down.
The actual number of cases in schools has been very small, perhaps one or a couple, according to medical health officers during a virtual town hall discussion on Thursday evening.
The school district invited medical officers from Island Health Authority, Dr. Sandra Allison and Dr. Charmaine Enns, to discuss the current coronavirus situation in the community and how it is affecting schools.
Even with recent school reports, the overall number of active cases on the north Island has stayed relatively small. At the time of the town hall, it stood at 68 cases, compared with 77 the previous week.
“I realize this is more than we are used to,” Enns said.
In the Comox Valley in recent weeks, there had been exposures reported at several local schools, including ones over two separate weeks at George P. Vanier Secondary, Feb. 16, 17 and 19 and again Feb. 23, 25 and 26.
“That school serves a very large area,” Allison said.
As people come out of isolation, the schools come off the active list though, as Allison noted a couple have just been removed.
One of the notable findings is the cases have been the result of social contacts outside of schools — for example, from social gatherings or contact with an adult in close contact, such as a parent who tests positive. In addition, with people isolating, there have been no cases of secondary transmission within a school environment, again pointing to social gatherings rather than school as the source.
“This is where transmission is happening,” Enns said.
Public health staff work with people who show symptoms and test positive to identify their close contacts who then may need to isolate. Allison noted the actual cases could be anyone in the school community, but they work to avoid singling out an individual out.
During the town hall, the doctors and district staff answered questions from the public about a number of issues — for example, calls to close schools, specifically from a recent petition started by students. As the doctors and staff reiterated a few times, there had been no cases of secondary transmission, pointing to the system as working as intended.
“At some point in time, individuals have to trust the system in place,” Allison said.
Other topics including busing safety, spring break, variants of the virus, allowing substitute teachers to work at different locations, masks in schools and vaccines for children.
Enns said the main goals through the pandemic have been to limit the severe outcomes in positive case, such as death or serious health effects, to make sure the health care system can continue to function and to limit social disruption as much as possible, which in the case of schools has meant having students in classrooms though with a range of precautions.
“Our pandemic response has caused significant social disruption,” she said.
With the addition of vaccines now, they will have a “new tool” to respond to the pandemic, and already, Enns said, it has been reducing severe outcomes in settings such as long-term care homes.
A video of the meeting can be viewed at bit.ly/2PHcxMq
At the end of the discussion, district superintendent Tom Demeo noted they will work to address all of the questions raised.
“If we did not get to your question, we will,” he said.