MARCH 16 UPDATE: Provincial health officials were scheduled to make a formal announcement about additional school measures that will be taken following spring break on Tuesday, March 17.
International school trips have been cancelled, but there are no plans to cancel classes in Port Alberni or on the West Coast in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to School District 70.
During a board meeting on Tuesday, March 10, SD70 superintendent Greg Smyth explained that Alberni District Secondary School’s (ADSS) upcoming trip to Europe has been cancelled, and a Ucluelet Secondary School trip to Guatemala was cancelled an hour before the students were scheduled to leave.
Although Guatemala has not been impacted by the virus, Smyth said there had been “some changes in the screening process” upon entering the country.
“We were concerned that upon getting to the entry point in Guatemala we could see students and/or chaperones separated from each other,” he said. “From a general safety standpoint…we felt that it was more prudent at this time not to go.”
The district will be working with tour providers to see if it will be possible to recoup any of the trip, he added.
At this time, School District 70 is not planning to close any schools, but the district is in “a very good position” to deliver instruction digitally if classes are cancelled, Smyth said.
“We really hope that it doesn’t come to that,” he added.
A letter was sent out to students and parents earlier this week, outlining standard precautions to avoid getting sick, including proper hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette.
Some parents have brought up concerns about a lack of soap in the ADSS washrooms. Smyth confirmed on Tuesday that this is being looked at.
“There was an issue at ADSS where there was abuse of towels, soap dispensers,” he said. “These students were told if you’re going to break it, we’re not going to refill them. There was a period of time where there was no soap.”
Based on current circumstances, he said, the soap dispensers and hand towels will be refilled.
“The inconvenience to us is less than when we look at the impact on the health of others,” he said.
School District 70 students are now getting ready for their spring break, which begins on March 13. Students will be out of school until March 30. District staff will be meeting later this week to review pandemic framework to ensure that schools will be ready to respond if there are any changes.
“It’s very likely that March 30 is going to look very different than March 13,” said Smyth. “We’ll see where we’re at after spring break.”
City and ACRD actively monitoring COVID-19
The Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District (ACRD) and City of Port Alberni announced earlier this week that they are actively developing a joint Alberni Valley Novel Coronavirus Disease Response Plan to help prepare for the potential arrival of COVID-19.
Currently, the Public Health Agency of Canada has assessed the public health risk as low for Canada.
The city and ACRD will continue to monitor information provided by federal and provincial agencies and say they will keep the citizens of the Alberni Valley informed about any changes to the city or regional district’s services.
“Our role is to communicate with the public on behalf of the health services,” said Heather Zenner, ACRD Protective Services Manager. “We’re trying to let the public know that we’re watching and we’re ready if it happens.”