Northwest teachers’ unions remain concerned about COVID-19 safety

COVID-19 has spread widely throughout the Northwest in the past few months, and with a growth in cases came plenty of school exposures as well.

According to Northern Health's website, 30 exposures in Northwest schools have happened in the past month.

Terrace District Teachers' Union President Joslyn Bagg says people in schools are nervous and stressed about the virus -- and the recent deaths of two retired teachers from COVID-19 has shocked their community.

She also wants changes. The province created a mandatory mask mandate for schools last month, but Bagg says it doesn't go far enough since it doesn't apply to elementary school students.

"What about those teachers that cover K to 6 or K to 7? They're not protected."

Teachers are also concerned about a lack of information about where the virus has spread. Prince Rupert District Teachers' Union President Gabriel Bureau says he wants the health authorities to tell teachers who in their school communities has tested positive. 

Northern Health cites privacy concerns as their reason for not doing so, but Bureau says teachers will be responsible with the information.

"Teachers and [educational assistants], we deal with private stuff all the time. We're used to it. We know that when we receive information, we're not to go to Tim Hortons or a coffee shop and repeat it."

Bagg also says that the time it takes between when an exposure happens and when schools are notified is too long. Some exposure notices are issued within a week, but others can take as long as eleven days since the last date of exposure.

"If we're having kids in front of us and we're being exposed and putting our health on the line for this, then there needs to be a better timeline."

However, Northern Health spokesperson Eryn Collins says that the process from exposure to notification has many steps that can take a long time -- and the process can take even longer if an exposure happens but the person doesn't get tested right away. 

"Even with the most ideal turnaround time, being able to notify a school community about a potential exposure is still going to be a matter of four to five, if not six days."

Stikine MLA Nathan Cullen has met with the Terrace District Teachers' Union, and he says he understands that people are stressed. But, he ultimately praised the province's approach to schools, which he describes as evidence-based.

"I have kids in the school system. They come back and report to me every day, and the fact that they're annoyed by how strict it is gives me great confidence."