Why Central Okanagan schools are getting hit hardest by COVID-19 | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Why Central Okanagan schools are getting hit hardest by COVID-19

No one is saying how many cases of COVID-19 have happened at Kelowna Secondary School.
November 13, 2020 - 7:00 AM

There are 18 school districts in the Interior Health region but since the return to school, only the Central Okanagan has “potential exposures” to COVID-19.

Currently, on the Interior Health school exposure web page, there are seven School District 23 schools listed as having potential exposures and two Independent schools – St. Joseph Elementary and Heritage Christian school, both in Kelowna.

Since schools are dropped from the list after two weeks, Ecole de L’Anse-au-Sable, which is the only school in the province where an outbreak was officially declared and voluntarily closed until Nov. 4, has been removed from the list along with five other schools in School District 23.

A couple of schools in the Kootenays made the list in the past but they are no longer there.

“If it is true, it’s because Kelowna is the largest school district in the region and the fifth largest in the province,” was School District 23 chair Moira Baxter’s response when told by iNFOnews that her region had the only schools on the list.

But, it’s more than that, she added.

“We’re a large school district with lots of areas in our schools where we don’t have a lot of empty space,” she said. “When you have a school with 1,800, 1,900 students, like we do at KSS (Kelowna Secondary School) we know it’s difficult. We’re doing the best we can to follow the guidelines but, especially with teenagers, when they leave school we have no control over what they do.”

She has no documented cases to prove it, but she’s convinced that teens vaping together off school grounds is very risky behaviour during the pandemic as it puts more droplets into the air.

Baxter didn’t know how many cases there were in each school or how many were teachers versus students.

Those details are being handled by Superintendent Kevin Kaardal who has been tied up in meetings and not able to return calls from iNFOnews.ca.

School District 23 has been quick to send out news releases when a “single exposure” has been detected at any school.

But, there is no way to tell how many cases have been reported in any particular school.

At one point, Interior Health posted that there had been a case at Kelowna Secondary School, then noted there was a second case then a third case. After that it posted four more lines indicating possible exposures, mostly on Nov. 2 and 3.

When iNFOnews.ca, earlier this week, asked Interior Health if that meant there were now four cases or seven cases at that school, Interior Health changed its format for the web page.

It stated: “Potential exposure: Oct. 28, 29, 30, Nov. 2, 3, 4.”

That was on Tuesday.

Today, Nov. 12, it says: "Potential exposure: Nov. 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.

“We are noticing a single person with COVID-19 can trigger school exposures on multiple days; leading some media to incorrectly report multiple cases at a school,” Karl Hardt, senior communications consultant at Interior Health, said in an email. “This has caused confusion and fear. The reverse is also true, multiple people with COVID-19 can trigger an exposure on a single day; leading some media to incorrectly reporting as one case.”

He would not say how many cases there were at Kelowna Secondary School.

“Unless an outbreak is declared, to protect people’s privacy, unfortunately we cannot speak to individual cases of COVID-19," he said. "What is important is that everyone directly exposed to COVID-19 will be contacted by public health; the web page is a secondary resource to offer a general sense of where COVID-19 activity is occurring.”

Baxter said parents in her district, if they have a concern, should first phone their school principals.

She insisted that School District 23 is following all the rules set down by the Ministries of Health and Education.

“Our protocols have been checked and double checked by Interior Health,” Baxter said. “If we make any changes we add to what we’ve been doing. I think we’re doing a very good job.

School District 23 schools that are on the list include: North Glenmore Elementary, Glenrosa, Ecole KLO, Ecole Dr. Knox and Constable Neil Bruce middle schools along with Kelowna and Okanagan Mission secondary schools.

No longer on the list are: Ecole Casorso, South Kelowna, Springvalley and Rose Valley elementary schools along with Ecole Rose Valley Middle School.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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