In a press conference held Monday to address concerns about exposures to the UK variant of COVID-19 in Surrey and Delta Schools, education minister Jennifer Whiteside and deputy health officer Dr. Reka Gustafson rejected BC Teachers Federation calls for school districts to be able to adopt their own safety plans to respond to spikes of exposure.
Whiteside acknowledged that information released Saturday and Sunday of exposures to the B.1.1.7 variant in seven schools in Surrey and Delta was “not the news parents and staff wanted to receive over the weekend.”
But she said that if changes need to be made, they will be better indicated by contact tracing and testing processes already in place across the province.
“We need to let the processes unfold to see how this happened,” Whiteside said.
Gustafson said that local public health officials already do a thorough procedure of testing and assessment of exposures and outbreaks, adding that adopting a universal testing protocol would override the value of this.
“I would not dismiss the importance of individual assessment,” she said. “We will learn from these (cases) to apply to a testing strategy.”
Whiteside also indicated she did not see a policy of mandating kindergarten to Grade 12 students wear masks all the time, including at their desks, as having particular value.
School districts already have “robust” health and safety plans in place, she said.
“Where our safety plans are being adhered to, the risks are low,” she said.
Whiteside said she supports instead the approach described by Surrey school superintendent Jordan Tinney of “encouraging a mask culture to develop” in schools – spreading such messages as “if you’re moving, you’re wearing a mask.”
She also acknowledged the reality of teachers facing burnout as a result of continuing to do their jobs under current stresses.
“I am very aware educators didn’t expect to find themselves on the front lines of a pandemic,” she said, adding that the ministry is working at “building in more support for educators and staff.”