COVID-19 exposures at 92 different schools in Fraser Health in first week of new reporting policy

A physical distancing sign is seen during a media tour of Hastings Elementary School in Vancouver on Sept. 2, 2020. (Jonathan Hayward / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

It's been less than a week since B.C. resumed posting public notices about COVID-19 exposure events in schools, but one Lower Mainland health authority has already added 92 different schools to its exposures list.

Fraser Health is B.C.'s most populous health authority and home to some of the province's largest school districts.

It's also seen a spike in coronavirus transmission in recent weeks, with provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announcing new restrictions for the eastern part of the region on Tuesday. 

Schools are removed from the Fraser Health list 14 days after the last date on which there was an exposure. 

In contrast to the 92 schools on Fraser Health's list as of Friday, Vancouver Coastal Health's list showed just two: Capilano Elementary School in North Vancouver and General Currie Elementary School in Richmond. 

Notably, the parent-run B.C. School COVID Tracker lists a higher number of exposures in schools in the Vancouver Coastal Health region, with parents reporting receiving notice of COVID-19 cases at 10 different schools in the region over the last two weeks. 

CTV News Vancouver reached out to the health authority for comment on this discrepancy. In an emailed response, Vancouver Coastal Health emphasized the "increased risk of transmission" portion of the exposure notification criteria.

"When VCH is notified of a positive case in a student or school staff member, public health completes an investigation as efficiently as possible, typically within 24 hours, to identify all individuals that person was in contact with," the statement reads, in part.

"If the person who tested positive for COVID-19 attended school while infectious, public health coordinates with the school to notify contacts and to offer guidance on next steps … If there is an increased risk of ongoing transmission of COVID-19 to other individuals in the school environment associated with a case, a school exposure notice is publicly posted."

Many of the people testing positive in B.C. in recent weeks have been school-aged children, though officials have not pointed to schools as a primary source of transmission. 

On Tuesday, Henry announced the resumption of the school exposure notification system, which had been eliminated at the start of the current school year because of concerns that the notifications had been unnecessarily "anxiety-provoking" during the previous one. 

After a backlash from parents and teachers, Henry said on Sept. 21 that health officials recognized that parents need an “authoritative source” for information, and promised that the new system would be “less intrusive and more sustainable."

The provincial health authorities now publish the name of the school and dates of exposure whenever a student or staff member attends school while infectious and there is an increased risk of transmission to the groups they were with.

When the previous school year ended, there had been 45 reported COVID-19 exposures at Lower Mainland schools over the preceding two weeks. Thirty-five of them were in Fraser Health and 10 were in Vancouver Coastal.