Okanagan teachers want their COVID vaccines as school exposures ramp up | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Okanagan teachers want their COVID vaccines as school exposures ramp up

Image Credit: ADOBE STOCK
April 13, 2021 - 6:00 PM

COVID-19 variants are on the rise and with the number of school exposures mounting, Central Okanagan teachers are increasingly uncomfortable.

“The variants are a game-changer,” Susan Bauhart of the Central Okanagan Teachers Association said.

As of Tuesday morning, there were 18 Central Okanagan schools with at least one exposure and more exposure notices were expected by the end of the day. Schools are starting to report whether the case in the school is a variant or not, but the information isn’t consistent, Bauhart said.

“What this steady stream of exposures is doing is amplifying the need to get teachers, support workers and administrators vaccinated,” Bauhart said.

“People are nervous and concerned they will catch something they can take home to their families — that has not changed — but the variants have people on edge.”

That said, conditions are better today than they were before schools closed for Christmas and hopefully it will stay that way.

“Before Christmas, we were in trouble, I don’t know what the public knows but we were running out of Teachers On Call with all the people who were isolated or had to stay home,” she said. “When the superintendent has to go in and teach classes, we have a problem.”

What would make things better, she said, is getting vaccinations in schools, getting schools that have yet to have better ventilation systems installed up to snuff and ensuring that classrooms are better spaced apart.

Some high school classes are still packed with 30 kids, shoulder to shoulder, she said. It’s not ideal and flies in the face of what the public health orders dictate in just about every other circumstance.

That, she said, has been the one consistent thing throughout the pandemic — one rule for everywhere else, and another for schools. 

It’s made even more plain with the recent expedited workplace order that allows WorkSafeBC inspectors, under the Public Health Act, to close a workplace for at least 10 days to limit the spread of the virus in that location.

When three or more workers have COVID-19 at a workplace that is determined to be a result of transmission in that workplace, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said that is when WorkSafeBC inspectors can shut that business down for a length of time.

That isn’t going to apply to schools.

Despite the inconsistencies, however, Bauhart said teachers don’t want to see schools closed.

“We’re not going to dispute that the best place for kids to be is in school,” she said. “Teachers want to teach kids in schools. Nobody enjoyed the online teaching that happened in June. It was a complete change of everything we learned and we’re used to…. Teachers want those schools to be safe.”

Dr. Henry said Monday that health officials are looking at offering teachers vaccines in other hotspot districts across the province. Surrey teachers are already getting their jabs.

She also said that cases tend to go up when children aren’t in school, but schools offer other benefits as well.

“The important structure that school gives to families and communities is really important, and it's a less risky environment. Those are things that we need to pay attention to, too,” she said.

Dr. Henry “heard loud and clear” from families and educators across B.C. last year when the schools shut down that it had a negative impact.

“We need to pay attention to that too and it is finding that balance of keeping things operating safely and making sure that we are supporting children as best we can, through what is really a challenging time,” she said.

“Challenging, I know people don't like that word, I don't know what the word is but this is a really difficult time, and the best thing that we can do for this generation of children is to support their learning and their emotional, physical growth in school.”

Interior Health said school district staff remain prioritized among the provincial immunization plan.

"We currently do not have an update for when our region will be directed to immunize teachers, but we look forward to beginning in the near future. Unfortunately, teachers were part of the planned targeted immunizations with AstraZeneca which has been paused provincially while there is further review of this vaccine," IH said in an emailed statement.

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