Teachers across B.C. are facing heightened concerns about COVID-19 variants becoming increasingly predominant among school-aged children.
And, like elsewhere in the province, those fears resonate for Central Okanagan Public Schools teachers.
This week School District 23 reported, 12 schools experiencing coronavirus exposures which did little to soften the concern, particularly when those numbers were far higher than in neighbouring school districts.
“To me, this only happens when people are out and about and travelling, doing things they shouldn’t be doing,” said Susan Bauhart, president of the Central Okanagan Teachers Association (COTA), the local affiliate of the BC Teachers’ Federation.
Like many residents, she noted anecdotally how there seemed to be a lot of visitors in town during spring break at a time when the provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has been telling people to stay home, or not venture outside their bubble or health region.
“I’m not sure how these things spread but I try to follow all the things we are asked to do and yes, even I get sick of it, but it would be great to see us all follow what we are told to do. Otherwise, these new variants would seem to be a hard thing to contain moving forward.”
Bauhart said the rapid exposure of the Vancouver Canucks players, which has placed in doubt the team’s ability to complete the current National Hockey League season with essentially all the players and team staff now quarantined, has been an eye-opener for how quickly these new variants can spread.
“Those are highly conditioned professional athletes following protocols who got sick,” said Bauhart, raising doubts about how a similar outbreak could be contained in public schools.
“We don’t have the numbers here fortunately that has been experienced in Surrey, but nor did North Vancouver and now they have had to shut down one school completely because of COVID…this is not something that will be limited only to the Lower Mainland.”
She said the BC Teachers Federation (BCTF) pushed for and saw the province classify teachers as frontline workers, making them eligible for the initial wave of vaccinations.
Problems that have arisen with the AstraZeneca vaccine, which local teachers were targeted to receive, have placed those efforts on hold for the moment.
“We are thinking now that might happen in May or June, but it could be longer. It all depends on the supply of vaccines which we have no direct control over,” she said.
Bauhart said there remains a range of emotions about coronavirus among COTA members, from not seeing a problem to extreme concern.
“I would say the concern becomes far greater the more this becomes detrimental to younger people. There is that fear of the unknown and the angst about getting the vaccine.
“Getting the vaccine does not make you immune to the variants but it definitely seems to reduce the risk of becoming hospitalized and some of the other dreadful effects that have been occurring.”
But she said teachers are committed to keeping school opens, feeling students in the classroom is one of the safest places they can be right now.
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