Several schools in Fraser Health have UK variant virus exposures

schools

It has been a busy weekend in Fraser Health for school notifications for exposure to a more transmissible variant of COVID-19.

On Sunday, three more schools were added to the list, including two in Surrey and one in Delta.

The Superintendent of Surrey Schools previously announced three school exposures on Twitter on Saturday.

Jordan Tinney said “two classes and over 20 individuals” have been instructed to stay home and get tested at École Woodward Hill Elementary.

On Saturday, three people at A.H.P. Matthew Elementary were told to get tested and stay home. Tinney's statement did not indicate if they were students, or staff, or a combination of the two.

Three people associated with Tamanawis were given the same instructions Saturday. In an update on Sunday, Tinney added that another whole class, plus seven individuals, had been instructed to isolate and seek testing.

“We’re very concerned. I think a lot of parents are very concerned,” said Rani Senghera, spokesperson for the Surrey District Parents Advisory Council. “They have a lot of anxiety around the new variant because there’s not much known about it.”

The schools added Sunday include Surrey’s James Ardiel Elementary and Surrey Traditional Elementary, and Hellings Elementary in Delta.

Fraser Health told CTV News Vancouver that Kwantlen Park Secondary had also had a variant exposure, but Tinney later said this was not the case. The superintendent said there was a positive test associated with Kwantlen Park, but the person who contracted the variant was never in the school during their infectious period.

Fraser Health did not say how many people have been directed to get tested and self-isolate from the schools announced on Sunday, but Tinney provided information on James Ardiel and Surrey Traditional via Twitter. Five classes at James Ardiel and two at Surrey Traditional have been instructed to stay home and get tested, according to the superintendent.

“Fraser Health identifies variant cases through the case and contact management process and notifies all close contacts. We do not publicly identify variant cases to protect the privacy of those who have been impacted,” the health authority said in a statement. “Only those staff and students who have been identified as close contacts need to be tested and have been contacted. The schools will remain open.”

The variant exposures at the three schools announced Saturday took place between January 26 and February 12.

Parents of students at those schools had previously been notified of positive COVID-19 tests in the school community, but Surrey Schools only learned the cases were the B.1.1.7. variant on Saturday.

"Testing for the variant takes longer than standard COVID-19 testing, which is why we have received this information now," letters to students, staff and parents of those schools said.

It is not clear when the exposure happened at Hellings Elementary, but Tinney's Sunday tweet indicates exposures happened at Surrey Traditional on Feb. 4, 5 and 8 and at James Ardiel on Feb. 8, 10 and 11.

On Friday, Dr. Teresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer warned of a potential dramatic spike in new cases if more easily transmissible variants such as B.1.1.7. take hold in communities.

“The variant strain can transmit more quickly and easily, but does not seem to cause more severe illness, nor interfere with the effectiveness of vaccines, nor affect our ability to test for the virus,” the Fraser Health Statement said.

The BC Teachers Federation took to Twitter late Sunday afternoon to issue a lengthy statement calling for increased safety measures to combat the new variants of the virus.

“BC teachers are deeply concerned to hear about exposures connected to more infectious variants of COVID-19 in schools in Surrey and Delta,” the Twitter thread began. “It is time for decisive action by government and health officials to counter this new threat to the safety of schools.”

The BCTF went on to say there should be stronger mask mandates, even for primary schools, and more rapid testing to help slow the spread of all variants of COVID-19.

The SDPAC is also calling on the district and the B.C. Ministry of Education to do more in light of the variant exposures.

“It’s been a year, and what really has changed in our schools? The ventilation systems haven’t changed,” said Senghera. “There’s no hand-washing stations, especially in Surrey. The portables don’t have any hand-washing stations.”

Senghera did commend Tinney for quickly arranging Zoom video meetings on Sunday with SDPAC and parents from the affected schools to discuss the situation. 

-- with files from CTV News --