Fraser Health is trying to assure parents that school is safe after noticing low attendance at some schools across the region following the first week back to in-person learning after the holidays.
In a letter to school districts, Ariella Zbar, medical health officer with Fraser Health Authority, told parents there are layers of protection in place to protect staff, students and families.
Zbar said there are two reasons for the low attendance rates. Either staff and students had COVID-19 prior to school starting or are close household contacts to cases, and need to isolate, or parents and guardians have kept their children home due to concerns about an increased risk of COVID-19 in schools.
In the first scenario, Zbar said it’s not a surprise that a number of individuals need to stay home right now because they have COVID-19 or are a close contact of someone who has the virus as case rates continue to be higher than they have ever been during this pandemic.
However, she said, it does not represent an increased risk of COVID-19 in schools, as these individuals would not be attending while infectious.
As for the second scenario, Zbar said that in the Fraser Health region, schools began implementing a set of enhanced health and safety measures in October 2021, aimed at increasing distancing between staff and students and limiting mixing between different grades.
“These measures are now part of the updated K-12 guidelines being used by schools,” noted the medical health officer.
The Ministry of Education, along with public health, have asked school districts, to monitor attendance and cross-reference current absenteeism numbers against the historical average, explained Irena Pochop with the Maple Ridge Pitt Meadows School District.
Pochop noted from Monday, Jan. 10, to Friday, Jan. 14, most elementary and secondary schools in the district recorded absenteeism more than 10 per cent higher than the historical average. And, added Pochop, numerous elementary and secondary schools had grade groups where attendance fell below 75 per cent on any given day.
“We do know that some families have chosen to keep their children home, but do not have any firm numbers on that,” said Pochop.
Zbar said staff and students are continuously reminded of the importance of daily health checks, hand hygiene, and consistent use of well-fitting masks. And public health continues to work with schools to monitor the level of COVID-19 in schools, she added.
“We receive regular reports of school attendance levels that we analyze against reported cases of COVID-19 among staff and students to see if additional steps need to be taken to address increases in COVID-19 activity,” remarked Zbar, adding that it is important that anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 report their result online so that Fraser Health can better monitor what is happening at schools.
About 60 per cent of children ages 5 to 11 in the Fraser Health region have yet to receive their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine.
“This is the most important step that you can take to protect your child from severe health outcomes of COVID-19,” said Zbar.
“It is true that children have continued to have the lowest rates of hospitalizations due to COVID-19, but they can and do occur.”
For more information about COVID-19 vaccine for children call 778-368-0123.
To register a child or book an appointment go to www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/covid-19/vaccine/register.
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