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Misinformation circulating among Richmond parents: School district

Both Richmond School District and Vancouver Coastal Health are reassuring parents there are robust safety plans in schools to minimize transmission of COVID-19.

Many parents have inconsistent and inaccurate information about COVID-19 transmission and how safe schools are, according to Richmond School District, and this is causing anxiety for parents.

Although there were about 50 exposures of COVID-19 between September and December in Richmond public schools, district superintendent Scott Robinson explained there haven’t been any known transmissions of the virus.

But parents are still worried given the information they are receiving.

“It is clear from some parent communications that a significant amount of inaccurate information is circulating in the community that may be adding to parents’ fears about sending their children to school,” Robinson explained in his December report to the board of education.

This prompted School Trustee Heather Larson to initiate a motion to start a communication plan to let families know schools are safe places vis-à-vis COVID-19.

“I think we’re all feeling inundated with information from social media and the inconsistencies lead to anxiety,” Larson said.

Her motion was to work with public health to develop “more consistent and accessible communication” about COVID-19 in the school context.

Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) reiterated this point about safety in a press release Thursday with medical health officer Dr. Alex Choi saying she wants school staff and families to “feel reassured that schools are a safe and low-risk environment for COVID-19 transmission.”

In the health region, only six per cent of COVID-19 cases were in those between the ages of five and 17 years even though they account for 10 per cent of the population.

Furthermore, there is evidence children don’t get as easily infected and are less likely to have severe symptoms, the release stated.

“The safety plans currently in place are robust and effective, and VCH is committed to ensuring that when students or school staff do test positive, a rigorous public health follow-up process is in place,” Choi added.

In total, about 700 students and staff were diagnosed between September and December with COVID-19 in the entire VCH area, which includes Richmond, Vancouver, the North Shore and some communities along the coast. This was out of a school population of more than 100,000.

“The vast majority of affected students and staff contracted the virus at home or in social circumstances outside of school and links to schools were determined through contact tracing,” stated the VCH release. 

Dr. Choi said the data supports efforts to keep schools open, and for students to attend in-person, and, while there was an uptick in cases since the end of October, this is reflective of an overall increase in communities.

“Schools are an essential determinant of physical, mental and emotional development,” Choi added. “It is our utmost priority to ensure students can continue to attend school, despite the ongoing pandemic.”

When VCH is notified of a positive case in a student or school staff member, public health completes an investigation, typically within 24 hours, to identify all individuals that person was in contact with.

If the person who tested positive for COVID-19 attended school while potentially infectious, public health coordinates with the school to notify all contacts and to offer guidance. Depending on their level of contact with the person who tested positive, this could include directions to self-monitor for symptoms and get tested if symptoms arise, or to self-isolate at home for close contacts.

Once those who were in contact with the person who tested positive have been notified directly of a potential COVID-19 exposure, VCH posts the notification to its website.