A reminder to students at Surrey’s Strawberry Hill Elementary to physically distance during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo: Lauren Collins)

A reminder to students at Surrey’s Strawberry Hill Elementary to physically distance during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo: Lauren Collins)

COVID-19

Teachers, staff should be included in contact tracing: Surrey Teachers’ Association president

STA says there is also ‘no harm in going even further’ with a mask mandate

A little more than seven weeks into the 2020/21 school year, the Surrey school district has sent out at least 100 exposure notices at more than 40 schools.

By Wednesday afternoon (Oct. 28), the province announced 287 new cases, with 189 of those in Fraser Health.

Of the province’s 2,316 active cases, 1,744 of those are in Fraser Health.

READ ALSO: B.C.’s COVID-19 case count jumps by 287, another senior home outbreak, Oct. 28, 2020

And Surrey Teachers’ Association president Matt Westphal is wondering why teachers aren’t being included in discussions when it comes to contact tracing.

Westphal said “a lot of teachers have concerns” about Fraser Health and contact tracing, especially as exposure notices are being sent out at certain schools multiple times.

By Thursday morning (Oct. 29), the schools with the most COVID-19 exposure notices were Panorama Ridge Secondary (9), Tamanawis Secondary (7), Sullivan Heights Secondary (7) and Frank Hurt Secondary (6). That’s a total of 29 notices, just at those schools since Sept. 8.

READ ALSO: Interactive table of COVID-19 exposures at Surrey schools

Westphal said there is “sometimes a considerable time lag between the infectious time period and the notice comes around,” and teachers would “like to be included in the conversation.”

By the time Fraser Health, or contact tracers, are talking to the children or parents, they “may or may not have a clear recollection” and the teacher might have other information, he said.

Westphal added staff “need to be included” and it should be “consistent.”

“It’s hard to understand why it isn’t. If the concern is privacy, teachers are already entrusted with a lot of very private information about students, including about other health conditions. So I don’t think that’s a valid reason not to do it.”

As for masks, Westphal said the Ministry of Education and the school district “should go above and beyond” what the B.C. Centre for Disease Control is saying when it comes to masks.

Westphal added that the district is “strongly encouraging masks, everywhere but in classes.”

“There’s no harm in going even further than the minimum that they’re setting. We really think there needs to be a stronger mask policy because especially with what we know about airborne transmission, that’s the biggest thing we can do that we have control over to help everyone.”

In Surrey Schools Superintendent Jordan Tinney’s Oct. 18 message, he said he wanted to be clear about the “combined efforts around wearing masks.”

“What we’re seeing in schools is just a reflection of what’s happening in our community and we know that in the Fraser Health region,” said Surrey school district Superintendent Jordan Tinney in his Oct. 18 message.”

“We continue to have more cases than the rest of the province combined.”

Tinney said the district is under the guidance of the provincial health officer and the provincial government, and in their protocols its says that staff are required to wear a non-medical mask, face covering or face shield in “high-traffic areas such as buses and in common areas, like hallways or anytime you’re outside of your learning group whenever physical distancing cannot be maintained.”

He added that while there “might be a situation in which you won’t wear a mask,” but it’s “good to give a reminder that we should be doing all we can and using every measure at our disposal, and a mask is one of those measures.”

As for what’s being done well in the district, Westphal pointed to Tinney’s videos, which he has been posting periodically since March.

“In terms of understanding the journey we’re all on, I think that has been helpful.”

He added the district has been “very good” at showing compassion, communicating exposure notices and “showing they get how difficult it is for people to be hearing these things, sometimes repeatedly.”

READ ALSO: No ‘safe six’ for household gatherings in Fraser Health as region leads B.C. in COVID cases, Oct. 28, 2020



lauren.collins@surreynowleader.com

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