Back To School With Covid19

Image Credit: George Hodan

It would appear that the BC government’s approach to the return to school revolves around the ability to contact trace anyone who has been infected by Covid19 quickly. Their cohort model (120 students for high school and 60 students at elementary) is the cornerstone of their back to school plan; if we find cases, we isolate them and carry on. Indeed, a strong tracing strategy should be part of any good return to school plan, but what about preventing or mitigating the spread in the first place? There appears to be very little attention given to preventing the transmission, which seems to be irresponsible at best. It is like closing the front doors to the barn but leaving the back ones open. There is a BIG hole left in the containment plan.

Being a cynic and 24-year veteran of the teaching profession, I am going to guess that what it all comes down to are dollars and cents. Preventing transmission is far more costly than tracing transmission, so the government chooses a tracing strategy. What this tells those of us who are going to be in the classroom, is that the government finds it perfectly acceptable for people to contract the virus, just as long as it can be traced. The result is that teachers and children of BC are going to be subjected to a massive epidemiological experiment, and the human consequences of this real-world experiment are of minor concern. Even Dr. Fauci admitted last week, when talking about school reopening in the USA, “You’ll (teachers) Be ‘Part of the Experiment’ in Reopening Schools” (see full text here). Unfortunately, for those of us who are poised to be unwilling guinea pigs, these plans look to be less of a meticulously planned experiment and more of a strategically planned crapshoot.

So what are teachers, parents, and self-aware students worried about? The virus does the most damage to seniors and those with underlying health conditions. Kids are by in large healthy and don’t have any underlying issues that may compromise their health. Teachers, we can assume most are healthy, and if they are not, well… they can call in sick or retire or quit. Life goes on right? The problem is that the #bced return to school plan is just too simplistic. It doesn’t address the dozens of questions and concerns people have or even consistent with the government’s own messaging to the greater population.

Inconsistent Messaging

Simply put, the #BCED back to school plan is inconsistent with the messaging we are getting from Minister Adrian Dix and Dr. Henry, about how we should conduct our daily lives in the community. Daily we were told to:

  • Stay 2 meters apart in public
  • Assemble in groups of more than 50
  • Wear masks when you can’t socially distance
  • Socialize outside if you can

On the national front, Dr. Tam also shares similar pearls of COVID safety wisdom. Recently shared a “Safety Tip” that has little resemblance to the #BCED return to school plan.

In addition to health authorities sharing proper COVID etiquette, Work Safe has also produced information on how to return to work safely. They have clearly outlined the protocols that need to be met before opening to the public. (see the whole document here)

  • First level protection (elimination): Limit the number of people in your workplace where possible by implementing work-from-home arrangements, establishing occupancy limits, rescheduling work tasks, or other means. Rearrange work spaces to ensure that workers are at least 2 m (6 ft) from co-workers, customers, and members of the public.
  • Second level protection (engineering controls): If you can’t always maintain physical distancing, install barriers such as plexiglass to separate people.
  • Third level protection (administrative controls): Establish rules and guidelines, such as cleaning protocols, telling workers to not share tools, or implementing one-way doors or walkways.
  • Fourth level protection (PPE): If the first three levels of protection aren’t enough to control the risk, consider the use of masks. Ensure masks are selected and cared for appropriately and that workers are using masks correctly.

The stark reality is that #BCED return to school plan simply does not reflect the advice we have been hearing from Dr. Henry, Minister Dix, or Dr. Tam. Nor does it meet the protocols as set out by Work Safe. The question is, why the inconsistency for schools?

Cohort Model Is Flawed

The cohort model the ministry has proposed as the cornerstone of the back to school plan is flawed. Either the people who came up with it do not have children, have never set foot in a school, or simply ignore the reality of how young people interact.

The premise that the cohort model revolves around is that groups of 60 (elementary) or 120 (high school), will spend their school days together for the coming months. If one person gets sick, it will be easy to trace who they have been in contact with and who to isolate. The problem is kids are not in school all day, and cross-pollination between cohorts is inevitable. Kids will get together with friends from other cohorts; siblings who are not in the same cohort will go home and interact. If we are not isolating, these groups of kids, transmission between cohorts, is inevitable. To add to the complexity is that there is zero control over where parents have gone or who they have been in contact with on a day to day basis. All this interconnectivity will negate any control or usefulness that the cohort model was intended to have. The model is leaky and will not hold water or virus and will not protect anyone in the school setting.

The Crumbling Belief That Children Are Invincible

When this whole pandemic started, the common belief was that children do not contract or spread the virus as efficiently as adults do. As the months have passed, studies are finding that this may not be as true as people would like to think. On July 30th, the World Health Organization made it clear that children are not invincible, they can contract the virus, they can spread the virus, and they can get seriously ill or even die from the virus

My question to the Rob Fleming is: If kids are not as invincible as we thought and we accept that there will be kids who will inevitably get ill from COVID, how many kids have to get sick or how sick does one kid have to get before the plan is considered to be ill-conceived?

Unknown complications

The Novel Carona Virus is new, thus the “novel” part of the name. Doctors and scientists are finding out more about the damage this virus can do on a daily basis and some of it is quite frightening. Personally I am not all that excited about catching something that unbeknownst to me is going to cut 10 years off my life or worse, make those last 10 years even more miserable than necessary. Even the nonlethal complications don’t sound all that inviting. Respiration issues, blood clots, kidney problems, muscle weakness… (More info here). It just doesn’t sound like all that much fun. Just last week there was a news piece out about how the virus seems to have caused hearing problems in as many as 1 in 10 COVID positive people (See article here). My hearing is bad enough without COVID coming along and wiping out what little hearing I have left. If I catch COVID because of work and I lose my hearing completely, will I be compensated? I am guessing the answer to that is NO!

Workers Compensation

So teachers are going back to school, the startup plan is weak if not ill-conceived at best, the only question left to ask is, will Workers Compensation cover any COVID related illness or long term disability? If you look at the Work Safe COVID claims to date (see here), it looks like if you catch COVID while working, there is a 43% chance you will have your claim approved. There is no, guarantee that if education staff go back and get sick, that Workers Compensation will cover them. Yet another reason for those who work in schools to be hesitant. As someone who has dipped into the Workers Compensation over the years (yes, they have been willing to help), you have to have your ducks in a row, or any claim you make will not be successful. Anyone going into the schools to work this fall needs to be familiar with their rights and responsibilities as an employee. Make sure you are meeting your obligations as a worker and ensure your employer is meeting theirs. Document your day with notes, images, and any other evidence you may need to prove a claim is valid, should the need arise. Report anything that is not safe to your health and safety committee and immediate supervisor. If the government isn’t going to try and ensure your safety, you need to take on this responsibility yourself. See more information here

Conclusion

The simple reality here is that there are too many unanswered questions and not enough clarity in the #BCED back to school plan. From the outside looking in, the plan flies in the face of everything we have been told from health authorities the past six months and completely ignores emerging information on how this virus affects children and adults. One can only conclude that teachers are being asked to suck it up and take one for the economy, and if you drop dead, I am sure the ministry will send a beautiful flower arrangement to the family you left behind.

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