Public schools in New Westminster saw 42 cases of COVID-19 involving children and youth in the first eight weeks of the school year.
Fraser Health data covering the period of Sept. 7 to Oct. 28 shows there were 30 cases of COVID-19 in School District 40 schools involving those 11 and under, and another 12 involving 12-to-18-year-olds.
The data notes that “fewer than five” cases were identified in adults in the school system (aged 19 and up). It does not provide a specific total.
The school district also saw three “clusters” in that time period.
The B.C. Centre for Disease Control defines a “cluster” as “two or more cases that were reported within a 14-day period where transmission was likely within the school or where transmission in the classroom setting can not be ruled out.”
In total, the 12 public school districts in Fraser Health saw 1,944 cases in that time period: 1,380 involving those 11 and under, 366 involving those 12 to 18, and 198 involving those 19 and up.
They also recorded a combined 112 clusters and one outbreak.
(These stats do not include private and independent schools, just the 12 public school districts.)
Those numbers were all included in a monthly COVID-19 report to the New West school board from superintendent Karim Hachlaf.
“I do believe they’re positive numbers,” Hachlaf said at the board’s Nov. 9 operations committee meeting. “They show our community with very low case counts when we compare them to other parts of the region.”
In total, New Westminster saw 2.2% of the cases involving the 11-and-under age group, 3.3% for the 12-to-18 group and less than 2.5% for the 19+ group. It also recorded 2.7% of the clusters.
The report doesn’t show how the New Westminster school district’s population compares to other districts, so it’s not known how it ranks on a per-capita basis.
As a rough guideline, however, New Westminster’s population (about 71,000) makes up about 4.4% of the population of Fraser Health (about 1.6 million).
Cases are different from 'exposures'
This report marks the first time that actual COVID-19 case totals for New Westminster schools have been publicly reported since the pandemic began.
The notification system put in place by the province simply lists “exposures” at schools by date. (Health officials, not school districts, are responsible for the school notification system.)
An "exposure" means that someone who has since tested positive for COVID-19 was in the school during their potentially infectious period on the date or dates in question and that other people may be at risk of having come in contact with the virus.
Health officials do not publish the number of cases involved, so it's not known whether the dates in each exposure involve one person or multiple cases.
The Record tracks school exposures (via the Fraser Health website and confirmed cases through B.C. School COVID Tracker) and previously knew about 23 “exposure” events involving public schools between Sept. 7 and Oct. 28 – meaning that, on average, each “exposure” equalled about two cases.
The report doesn’t break down case numbers into specific schools, nor does it identify which schools had the clusters.
Self-monitor, self-isolation letters on the rise
School District 40 has consistently released the number of “self-monitoring” and “self-isolation” letters sent to members of its school communities.
Self-monitor letters are sent to those students or staff who may have been exposed to the virus but who are not necessarily considered close contacts of the infected person; recipients can continue to attend school but are expected to watch closely for potential symptoms of COVID-19.
Self-isolation letters are a more serious step, sent to those individuals and/or classes considered at high risk of exposure due to the nature of their contact with the infected person.
In the first month of the school year (Sept. 7 to Oct. 6), the school district sent out 12 self-monitor letters and seven self-isolation letters. In that month, all the self-isolation letters were sent to individuals and not to full classes.
Those numbers increased significantly in the second reporting month (Oct. 7 to Nov. 3).
In that time period, the school district sent out 29 self-monitor notifications: five at École Qayqayt Elementary School, three at Lord Kelvin Elementary School, three at Fraser River Middle School and 18 at New Westminster Secondary School.
It also sent out 11 self-isolation letters to individuals (five at NWSS, five at Qayqayt and one at Lord Kelvin), plus its first full-classroom isolation notice at Qayqayt.
Since that report was put together, exposures have also been reported at three more schools: Skwo:wech, Lord Kelvin and Queen Elizabeth elementary schools. Any self-monitor and self-isolation letters connected with those cases will be reported in next month’s school district report.