K-12 students across B.C. head back to class as COVID-19 hospitalizations mount

Provincial officials and schools say they are ready to keep students safe from COVID-19 as classes resume on Monday.

Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside, Health Minister Adrian Dix and Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry made assurances on Friday that there will be enhanced safety measures in place at schools starting Monday, after the winter break was extended by a week for most students so staff and teachers could prepare.

The measures include staggered break times, virtual assemblies and visitor restrictions. Schools will have access to three-layered masks despite calls from the B.C. Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) for N95s instead.

‘I am worried’

Raphael Henriques, a parent in Burnaby with a seven-year-old in the school system, said he hopes the measures will be enough to keep his son safe.

“I am worried because it is spreading so fast, but you know I think we also need to get back to life,” he said.

On Friday the province announced that 349 people were in hospital with COVID-19, including 93 in intensive care.

Nine more deaths from the virus were also recorded.

Experts say hospitalizations are a more accurate barometer of the disease’s impact, as new case numbers in B.C. are likely higher than reported, now that the province has hit its testing limit because of the Omicron surge.

Burnaby parent Raphael Henriques plays in the snow with his daughter and seven-year-old son. He is hoping for the best when his son returns to class on Monday.

© Dillon Hodgin/CBC News Burnaby parent Raphael Henriques plays in the snow with his daughter and seven-year-old son. He is hoping for the best when his son returns to class on Monday.

The B.C. Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) says that from Dec. 19 to Dec. 25, 2021, the median age of hospital admissions was 61.

As of Thursday, 23.9 per cent of COVID-19 tests in B.C. were coming back positive, according to the province’s COVID-19 dashboard. On Vancouver Island, 29.1 per cent of tests were positive as of Thursday.

In Surrey, Grade 10 student Ravjot Sarao said she’s unsure about going back to school on Monday because she’s worried the new protocols, such as properly wearing masks, won’t be followed in a way that will prevent infections.

She said she would prefer to learn online until the spread of Omicron slows. 

“I think until the peak starts to go down, because right now it is almost at the top … and we should have had more online learning options.”

The BCTF is calling on the province to provide masks more capable of filtering out the coronavirus, such as N95 masks, prioritize booster shots for teachers, and find ways to increase the number of vaccinated five to 11-year-olds.

Surrey teacher Annie Ohana says the province is taking a gamble by resuming in-class learning.

“I’m concerned that we’re asking parents to send their kids into a school or we’re not quite sure what transmission is going to look like,” she said.

According to the BCCDC, out of B.C.’s 276,875  recorded cases of COVID-19, 51,951 or around 19 per cent are among people 19 and younger. 

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