Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows school district officials insist there is no risk to public health as it responded to fears about the novel coronavirus hitting town this week.
Sylvia Russell, superintendent of SD42, posted a COVID-19 update to the district’s website on Wednesday, addressing concerns that have been circulating online after a Feb. 21 letter from Fraser Health was shared with parents and staff.
The letter was sent to all school districts in the Fraser Valley, said Russell.
In the Feb. 21 Fraser Health update, the first presumptive case of the novel coronavirus in Fraser Health region was confirmed, the sixth case in B.C. at the time.
“Fraser Health Public Health is currently monitoring the patient, following up directly with all contacts of the case, and advising self-isolation,” read the update.
“Contacts of this case may have attended school in the region and are currently isolated,” the letter continued, adding that the contacts were not showing any signs or symptoms of illness while attending school and remain well.
“There is also no evidence that novel coronavirus is circulating in the community,” Russell said.
Although school districts cannot speak about specific schools or specific individuals, Russell said on Wednesday that she wanted to reassure parents that the health authority reports no public threat at schools in the region or anywhere else in the province.
“Whenever there is a public health matter, school districts work closely with health authorities to keep students and staff safe,” she advised, adding that the school district will be providing a summary of recommended measures for preventing and controlling respiratory viruses, including COVID-19, additional guidance from the Office of the Provincial Health Officer and the B.C. Centre for Disease Control.
“We understand that you may have many questions and concerns regarding the novel coronavirus,” Russell said.
“We are in regular communication with the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Health, and Fraser Health, and will continue to provide you with the very latest information provided by health authorities.”
Fraser Health advised that students or staff who have been in close contact with someone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19 should consider staying home for 14 days after their last encounter with that person and monitor themselves daily for fever and cough.
Fraser Health, when contacted, would not say what Fraser Valley community the diagnosed person was from and referred further questions to the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, explaining that to the centre as the lead agency for COVID-19.
Jane Campbell, media relations with the Provincial Health Services Authority, said that details about anyone involved in contact tracing for COVID-19 or anyone self-isolating won’t be divulged.
Governments, citizens, media, key influencers & communities have an important role to play in
preventing & stopping stigma.
We all need to be intentional & thoughtful when communicating on social media & other platforms, showing supportive behaviors around #COVID19. Do your part! pic.twitter.com/acpXS7Y6iz
— World Health Organization (WHO) (@WHO) February 25, 2020
Also, the agency will not be providing details about health facilities where suspected or confirmed cases may have been treated, she said.
At a press conference Tuesday morning, the Minister of Health Adrian Dix and Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s provincial health officer, shared more details about why specific communities or schools will not be identified as being exposed to the virus.
“If we do name a specific school, it’s unfortunate, but that school would be targeted, and those individuals would be targeted, and we know that that happens,” said Henry.
“And that would discourage anybody else from trusting that they can contact us and work with us,” she said.
“Privacy keeps everybody safe,” added Dix.
Pls visit @CDCofBC website for up-to-date, factual information about #COVID-19. A terrific array of resources are available in different languages-I recommend checking out the latest FAQ & videos, featuring members of the BC Centre of Disease Control team! https://t.co/pxG4yGt4rD
— Adrian Dix (@adriandix) February 22, 2020
“And that’s why we are going to pursue and to protect people’s privacy,” he said.
In a joint statement, Dix and Henry confirmed that a seventh individual in B.C. had tested positive for the virus.
The first person confirmed with COVID-19, they added, has now recovered, “as indicated by the resolution of symptoms, followed by two successive negative test results 24 hours apart.”
They said that while the risk of spread of the virus in B.C. is currently low, they are watching the global evolution of the virus “carefully” and are focusing efforts on containing the spread of COVID-19 in the province and across the nation.
“We are preparing for all possibilities that may occur in the coming weeks, including the possibility of a pandemic,” the joint statement read, defining a pandemic as the spread of an illness to a large number of people on a global scale.
“We are asking people to do their part in making sure they prevent transmission of infections to others in our communities and in our health-care system,” including cleaning your hands regularly, to avoid touching your face, coughing or sneezing into your elbow or sleeve, disposing of tissues appropriately, and staying home and away from others if you are sick.
They are also asking all international travellers returning to B.C. to monitor themselves and their children closely for symptoms.
If any symptoms arise, they said, to limit contact with others and connect with their primary-care provider, local public health office, or call 811 to determine if COVID-19 testing is needed.
According to the World Health Organization, coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases and are zoonotic, meaning that they are transmitted between animals and people.
COVID-19 was first reported from Wuhan, China on Dec. 31, 2019.
The WHO also makes a series of recommendations on their website on how best to protect yourself against COVID-19 including the washing of hands, maintaining a “social” distance of at least one metre from anyone coughing or sneezing, to avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth, to follow good respiratory hygiene and to seek medical care early if you have a fever, cough or difficulty breathing.