Will parents still be notified if their child is exposed to COVID-19 at school? B.C. officials explain changes

A high school student wears a face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 in class in this undated image. (Shutterstock)

With students heading back to class next week, some have expressed concern about the changes to COVID-19 protections in place for schools, in spite of B.C. being in the middle of its fourth wave in the pandemic.

This school year, while a mask mandate is in place, cohorts and distancing rules are not. Health officials have assured parents that in spite of those changes, they'll still be notified if they're exposed to the disease. The process will look a little different, however.

"We will not be doing the notifications to school if there's been a single exposure. They'll be doing an assessment as we do for every communicable disease and every individual who is at risk will be notified," Dr. Bonnie Henry said earlier this week.

"We've heard very clearly from people that the majority of people felt that the school-based letters were more anxiety-provoking than helpful. But we will absolutely be keeping the schools informed."

Last year, entire schools would be notified in written statements when someone at the school tested positive for the coronavirus. Often, those notifications would be released after the disease's incubation period had already passed.

In a news conference Thursday, Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside said contact tracing will still be conducted, even without the large notices.

"We can be very confident that, should there be an exposure in school, the family will be notified, those close contacts will be notified and the health authorities will be engaged in the contract tracing," Whiteside said.

"What I understand public health is looking to do is to shift to a communicable disease management approach, which doesn't involve mass notifications going out."

Both Whiteside and Henry said health authorities will have contact-tracing staff in place and if there's more than one case, a different approach might be taken.

"Every cluster or outbreak will be reported," Henry said.

Whiteside also said with higher rates of immunization, officials are expecting fewer notifications overall.

"Public health is not anticipating the need for the kind of notification process we had in place last year," she said.

"I want to assure parents and families that of course if their child experiences an exposure in school, they will be notified."