Before you read further, I must warn you; this is a rant. Not something I usually do, but we’re living in extraordinary times.
I know a lot of people aren’t going to like me saying this, but I no longer agree with Dr. Bonnie Henry. I think her catchphrase “Be calm, be kind, be safe” is great advice, and it also makes for a perfect sound bite. Unfortunately I have lost confidence in the rest of her message.
We hear everyday, from many authoritative sources, the importance of washing hands, keeping 2 metres apart, and wearing masks in public places. This is great advice, and probably these three steps are crucial to reduce the spread of this nasty illness. And we are told constantly, earnestly, to follow this sage advice. Just not if you’re in a classroom. So why are we given two very different standards to follow; one for the general public, and another for students and teachers?
When questioned about this, Dr. Henry tells us that children are less susceptible to the Covid-19 virus. They don’t have severe symptoms and recover much faster. Uh huh, and how about their ability to pass on the virus? Is that also lessened? Some recent studies have shown that outbreaks in schools have resulted in fewer outside transmissions, but there has not been enough research to provide a definitive picture.
Back in September when schools were getting set to open, there was a tremendous amount of uncertainty around how they could make it work safely. Many school districts developed plans that involved a reduction of class sizes. The BC Health Authority left it up to individual school districts to work out the specifics, citing different situations in different areas of the province. Yet their Covid protocols for the general population were the same, no matter where you lived in the Province. I believe this was Dr. Henry’s first mistake.
School Cleaning Protocols
Our school district chose not to reduce the number of students. According to their COVID-19 Guidance for K-12, they haven’t even upped their cleaning protocols!
Cleaning staff have been working much harder, and they have brought in new tools to disinfect classroom spaces daily. But nothing has changed since September, when classes resumed. District officials tell us the guidelines are fluid, that we could expect changes based on the latest situation. Given what we know and continue to learn about this virus, shouldn’t we be seeing continual adaptation to the protocols? Nothing has changed!
Meanwhile in Quebec, which is experiencing the worst of the second wave, the Premier is considering closing schools for a period. Only 5 days ago, he had this to say.
“Schools are a place of transmission. It is why we’re evaluating the possibility of closing the schools for a limited period of time.”Quebec Premier Francois Legault
Wait, what!? A place of transmission? But according to Dr. Bonnie Henry, schools are not a place of transmission. So which is it? Are only Quebec schools places of transmission?
Aerosol vs Droplets
Something else that has changed, albeit quietly, is the increased likelihood of the virus being transmitted by aerosol, or through the air. It was reported in early November that the Public Health Agency of Canada updated their guidance on how COVID-19 spreads, without any public notice. That updated guidance now reads, “SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, spreads from an infected person to others through respiratory droplets and aerosols created when an infected person coughs, sneezes, sings, shouts, or talks.”
Classroom COVID protocols, at least in BC, don’t take into account the virus may be spread by aerosols. Children sitting in classrooms, unmasked, sitting within a metre or so of each other, will be breathing shared air. Some schools may well have state of the art ventilation systems, able to filter and disperse virus particles from classrooms, but not many, I’ll wager.
A Flawed Science Experiment
My wife is a teacher. I have two children, both in school. If this were any other year, we would also be hosting International students. We had two last year, and one stayed with us through the early months of the pandemic, before her family decided it was safe to return home to Europe. I miss having them with us, but I’m glad they don’t have to go through this anxiety, away from their own families.
Last week my son’s high school reported its first COVID exposure. In only a week or so, Vancouver Island reported clusters and exposures in 5 schools in the Nanaimo-Ladysmith school district. There were no reported cases 8 days previously.
Teachers are stressed. This isn’t the regular stresses that teachers manage during a regular school year. This stress is pervasive, profound, and potentially debilitating. Our governments and our health authorities have placed an entire profession in a giant lab experiment, along with our children. And it’s all based on biased conclusions from contact tracing studies.
“Early suggestions that children are considerably less important drivers of SARS-CoV-2 transmission than adults are not confirmed by more recent research.”Ontario’s science advisory table on coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)
A teacher in a primary classroom spends his or her day with children who have no idea what it means to physical distance, or cough into their sleeve, or to not share a sandwich with other kids. None of them wear PPE. My wife can’t tell her children or their parents that they must bring a mask to school, without fear of reprimand. That can only come from the Provincial Health Authority.
Every day, she must get up and get ready for work by putting on her best brave face, and psyche herself up to go do the job she is not paid to do. She must somehow manage the health, safety and well-being of a small group of young, innocent, developing children, all without losing her mind. And every teacher I know, not just my wife, must carry the weight of responsibility for keeping those children safe.
The Second Wave
Vancouver Island has done remarkably well throughout the 9 or so months of this pandemic. We’ve had low case numbers and just a few hospitalizations. October came and the Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley has struggled to deal with the rapid growth of new cases. Contact tracers are close to being overwhelmed as they try keeping up with the rampant spread of COVID-19. Then suddenly Vancouver Island had 4 new cases at the beginning of November. Two days later we had 7 new cases. 5 days later up to 11 daily. Then 16. Then 19!
Dr. Bonnie Henry has continued to tell us that schools are still safe, with only 1 in ten exposures happening in classrooms. There is no way of telling what school exposures look like in the province by looking at the BCCDC website. The info just is not available. This is one of the reasons why parents are anxious. There is not enough information available.
The other day Dr. Henry provided a schools update and mentioned some numbers for school exposures. However there is a Facebook group started by a couple of homeschool moms. BC School Covid Tracker. It’s worth a peak if you’re interested in the numbers and how they track the cases. Relying completely on crowdsourcing, this group tracks the school exposures in BC. Information is provided by the public and is validated with a copy of the letter issued by public health or the school administration. They recorded almost three times higher school exposures than the Provincial Health Authority. Their numbers are based on the number of exposure letters received. I wonder why the difference in numbers?
Here’s an interesting, albeit disturbing, bit of information you probably aren’t aware of. If a parent calls their child’s school and tells them their child has COVID-19, the school is not allowed to inform anyone else, until they have been directed to do so by the Public Health Officer. A teacher can’t go on Facebook and say there’s a child in their class that has COVID. However if a child has lice in the classroom, the teacher is free to post a notice wherever needed. Even the letters from the Health Authority to parents request that they not announce the case to anyone else!
The Double Standard of Dr. Bonnie Henry
Every day there are strong calls from the public to have a mandated mask policy for the province. Dr. Bonnie Henry has stood by her guns and resisted this step. Her reasons for doing so seem sound and logical. That doesn’t negate the need for a mask policy for schools.
Just this week she reversed her decision on mandating masks. Her reasons also made sense. A provincial mandate takes the pressure off individual businesses attempting to implement and enforce mask policies. She also says it’s important we all do our part to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Any precaution that helps get ahead of this virus, except having kids wear masks in class.
Currently students are required to wear a mask when moving from class to class, or during breaks outside of the classroom. But masks are not required in class. And Dr. Bonnie Henry made no changes to school guidelines.
No Masks For Schools?
My son’s classes are 2-1/2 hours each. For that length of time, children are in the same room, breathing the same air, and sitting a metre or less apart. At my place of business I’m required to wear a mask, even in lunchrooms and common areas. All retail businesses and public spaces require customers to mask up before entering. My daughter must wear a mask and keep 2 metres apart when she’s at her dance class.
The other day the Minister of Education announced that there would be no changes to the current guidelines for schools. I must ask; Why is this government so ridiculously out of touch with the reality of our current situation? Why do they continue disregarding the current, updated science of viral transmission, even when acknowledged by the WHO and CDC? And when will they start learning from those provinces that have failed school opening plans, that are now trying to close the barn door after the horse has bolted? Will we experience the same fate as Quebec, with over 3,000 active cases in schools and 1,200 classroom closures?
It’s a terrible thing seeing your wife and your children so anxious about going to school that it makes them ill. It is a terrible thing placing so many innocent people in harm’s way, all based on flawed, biased science. Our healthcare workers are already bearing the heavy load. They put themselves on the line for us every day. Why are we also needlessly doing that to our teachers and students?
This has to change, before it’s too late. If you agree, send an email to your MLA. Tell them our schools are not science experiments. Tell them to do better. Dr. Bonnie Henry needs to do better.
As a 70 year old I think I have been more concerned about me and my wifes welfare during the pandemic; a perspective that has focused our energies almost entirely on our health and survival as a couple and not much else. Wear the masks, stay clear of the bug and save what resources we can for the duration of this thing.
You reveal layers that we need to see and for that i thank you.
What are other countries in the Northern Hemisphere doing as their traditional school year opens?
What would you do, province wide, in Doctor Henry’s shoes?
Can this be corrected? Can the children stay in school safely?
I realize that it’s all too easy for me to throw these questions out there -no kids in school and no teachers in the family -but I find it hard to believe that the people we trust to lead us through this calamity can be so blind to the obvious risks of their actions.
I find it hard to believe, but not impossible.
I was hoping that I would be able to find an argument to counter yours and make some points that hadn’t occurred to you but I can’t. Thanks for the big eye opener Michael.
Thanks for your perspective, Peter! There is so much more going on that most of us aren’t aware of. And, as you mention, in many cases it’s because these issues aren’t necessarily in people’s wheelhouses. I do understand the government’s challenges. Parents want their kids to be safe, but can’t stay home with their kids and work at the same time. Class sizes need to be smaller to provide better physical distancing, but there aren’t enough teachers to split classes in two. Teachers can’t be expected to provide in class learning for some and online lessons for others. Kids need the social benefits of in class schooling. So many challenges, but there are other school districts in other countries that have done a better job of managing these needs.
Contact tracing on the Mainland hasn’t been able to keep up with notifying close contacts in school exposures, which renders the process moot.
I thank God I’m not in Dr. Henry’s shoes. I don’t believe the the leaders are blind, just maybe choosing the lesser of two evils. A solution? That’s tough to say. I believe a mandatory mask requirement for classrooms is a good start. Kids are susceptible to overwhelming peer pressure. If masks are suggested but not required, some kids will wear them. Others will submit to the peer pressure of their friends not wearing them. Just as in public spaces, a mask mandate is only going to work if everyone gets on board.
Thanks again for your perspective!
Well stated Michael. All your points and counterpoints are valid.
Thanks for the comment, David! I just want my kids to be safe. I want to know they’re doing what needs to be done to reduce the chances of bringing this into our home. And I want my wife to feel safe in her classroom.