British Columbia officials announce return to classroom learning, order companies to reactivate COVID security plans

The B.C. government said thousands of students across the province will resume classroom learning on Monday despite the risk that Omicron’s highly transmissible variant could have a significant impact on staffing in the weeks to come. to come.

Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside joined Health Minister Adrian Dix and Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry in making the announcement in a live press conference on Friday.

Whiteside said stronger security measures will be put in place at schools, including staggered breaks, virtual assemblies and visitor restrictions. She also said schools will have access to three-layer masks, despite calls from the BC Teachers Federation to distribute in place of the N95s.

“It is essential, and a priority for all of us, that we keep schools open,” said Henry. Outside of the education system, she also announced that she is ordering business owners in British Columbia to reactivate COVID-19 security plans.

Last week, the province announced a phased return to school in January due to the spread of Omicron, and school administrators have used that time to prepare contingency plans, including functional and phased shutdowns when too many staff are sick or have to self-isolate.

On January 5, Teri Mooring, president of the BC Teachers Federation, said the union was greatly concerned that Omicron would cut staffing levels, so classrooms might not be able to function.

Rapid tests don’t come quickly

The province has also been criticized for the lack of rapid tests available in British Columbia

Health officials have faced calls during the pandemic, and more acutely over the past week as Omicron spreads rapidly, to widely disseminate the tests, which can be used at home and deliver results in minutes.

With children due to return to school next week, better availability of these tests would be welcomed by educators and families.

Henry said on Friday that a federal government supply was on its way and is expected to arrive next week.

She said all rapid tests in the province are currently recommended and are used in long-term care for healthcare workers and remote Indigenous communities.

When the new batch arrives from Ottawa, Henry said tests will be available to test symptomatic school staff at the end of next week and possibly will be available to help families test children at home.

Whiteside said schools will no longer report individual cases of COVID-19 to public health for contact tracing. Schools alert health authorities if overall attendance drops significantly, which will trigger a public health investigation, she said.

Henry said there is no hard and fast threshold for truancy because what’s normal will vary by school and district. She said parents will always be notified when a COVID-19 outbreak is identified.

Omicron threatening

The province announced on Thursday that 324 people are now hospitalized with COVID-19, including 90 in intensive care, as the province reported three more deaths from the disease.

24.2% of COVID-19 tests in British Columbia came back positive as of Thursday, according to the province’s COVID-19 dashboard.

Henry said anything above a five percent test positivity rate indicates a worrying level of community transmission.

A total of 3,223 new cases have also been reported. But following the rapid spread of the highly transmissible variant of Omicron, which has caused problems with testing capacity in British Columbia – and in light of the variant’s diminished virulence for many who contract it – Experts say the number of daily cases is now less reliable. statistics to understand the pandemic.

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