Interior Health medical health officer Dr. Silvina Mema. (Contributed)

Interior Health medical health officer Dr. Silvina Mema. (Contributed)

COVID-19: North Okanagan-Shuswap parents concerned with timeliness of exposure reporting

Interior Health medical health officer responds to concerns

Corryn Grayston has noted a growing frustration among parents around the timeliness of COVID-19 exposures being reported for North Okanagan-Shuswap schools.

Though there’s been an element of heightened anxiety among school communities throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the School District 83 DPAC (District Parent Advisory Council) president said it has increased over the past couple of weeks. She believes it’s due in part to concerns around the virus’ Delta Variant. Another factor, she explained, has to do with information from Interior Health regarding confirmed exposures in schools not being as timely as people would like.

Referring to the health authority’s school exposures website, Grayston explained how an exposure at one school on Sept. 27 wasn’t posted until Oct. 4.

“That’s the frustration for parents – because they would like to have more timely information and be comforted by the fact that if there is a possible exposure to their child, they’re being notified within 24 hours,” said Grayston. “And that’s not happening right now.”

From the time Interior Health receives confirmation of a positive test involving a member of a school community, it has 48 hours to post it on the website. That includes the time it takes the health authority to investigate, explained Interior Health Medical Health Officer Dr. Silvina Mema.

That timeline, Mema noted, comes with caveats. One of them is when a period of time passes from when a student first experiences symptoms to when they test positive; and, at some point within that time frame, they’ve attended school. For example, said Mema, if a student tests positive on Oct. 10, “we call them and say, ‘When did you start feeling unwell? And they say ‘well, I’ve been having a sore throat since Oct. 2.’ And let’s say they were at the school. Then we post on the website there was an exposure at the school and that the exposure is Oct. 2, 3, 4 – whenever the kid was in the school.

“And then we get asked, why didn’t you post it earlier? And the answer is, we didn’t know, because the kid didn’t get tested until Oct. 10.”

Another issue that arises is when a student tests positive but did not attend school while infectious.

“If the parents go and tell the school community my kid has COVID, then the school community starts saying, why wasn’t Interior Health notifying us? We have a very good reason for not notifying, because the kid wasn’t at the school to begin with,” said Mema.

Read more: COVID-19 cluster confirmed at Shuswap elementary school

Read more: Kids as young as 5 could get COVID vaccine next month, must wear masks: Dr. Henry

A parent of school-aged children herself, Mema said she understands parents’ concerns. However, she said people posting their own notifications via social media may only be adding to people’s anxiety.

“That’s not helpful because, as I said, there are caveats, not every case has been infectious at school… and people are jumping to conclusions and sometimes it’s creating mistrust in the system…,” said Mema. “If some parents are sort of taking it upon themselves to do these notifications, it’s creating different lines of communication and that’s confusing.”

Mema said medical health officers would be happy to meet with parents or arrange a way to address their concerns. One message she would convey is that Interior Health has a system in place that involves doing a thorough assessment of each and every case to determine if there’s a risk and what that risk might be for a particular class or school.

“When we have that, and we have determined that there was risk to the school or the class, or there could have been risk… that’s when we post it to the website,” said Mema. “It’s not automatic, it’s not in real-time because there needs to be that assessment done.”

The other piece, Mema stressed, is being mindful of privacy, “because it’s really easy to stigmatize a family or child” as well as create issues for the school.

“We are trying to calm people down and say, if you are eligible, get the vaccine, that would be the most important message,” said Mema. “And have confidence in our system because we are following up on every case.”

More information regarding COVID-19 protocols for B.C. schools can be found here.
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