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Elementary school in Chilliwack, B.C., temporarily closed over COVID-19 outbreak

CHILLIWACK, B.C. — An elementary school in Chilliwack, B.C., has been temporarily closed due to what the principal says is a spike in COVID-19 cases.

CHILLIWACK, B.C. — An elementary school in Chilliwack, B.C., has been temporarily closed due to what the principal says is a spike in COVID-19 cases.

Fraser Health confirmed the outbreak at Promontory Heights Elementary on Thursday after more than 20 positive cases of the virus were diagnosed among staff and students. 

A statement on the school's website said cases of COVID-19 have been climbing since the first week of school. Principal Chuck Bloch said the school's medical health officer ordered a halt to in-person learning to prevent further spread of infections and online learning would be offered until the school is cleared to reopen. 

Dr. Ariella Zbar, a medical health officer with Fraser Health, said those infected are predominantly students across various grades, but health authority will be assessing the situation daily. 

"We have been working with the school to review safety plans and make sure we address any issues that may arise before the school goes back in session," she said in an interview. 

Though an initial statement from the school said the expected return date would be Oct. 3, Zbar said that was subject to change.

"Sometimes we keep schools closed for the incubation period, however, our experience at Fraser Health has been that if there are cases, they make themselves known within the first few days of the outbreak and we don't need to wait the full 14 days to return to in-person instruction."

Fraser Health officials will continue to meet with school staff to determine when the school may safely reopen. 

The Ministry of Health reported 832 new cases of COVID-19 in B.C. on Thursday, with 5,697 active cases provincewide.

The Fraser Health authority, which includes Chilliwack, has the most active cases in the province at 1,932. 

Zbar is urging the school community to prioritize vaccinations, particularly in the eastern Fraser Valley, where Promontory Heights Elementary is located, citing higher rates of infection relative to other places in the region.

"In addition to school safety plans, it is so important to keep COVID-19 out of schools by making sure every member of the school community ages 12 and over get their vaccine if they haven't already," she said. "It's a way to protect themselves and protect those who aren't yet eligible for vaccines."

The outbreak comes after provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry reversed a decision not to notify parents of single cases of COVID-19 in schools. 

She said parents and teachers from across the province wanted to be informed about any possible transmissions of the virus.

"We have asked our team to get together right now to make sure that we can notify schools in a timely, less intrusive and more sustainable way and that parents will have access to that information rapidly," Henry said Tuesday.

She said a new notification system is expected to be in place by the end of the week.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 23, 2021.

The Canadian Press