Letter to Langley School District superintendent Gord Stewart
Dear Mr. Stewart,
I am writing regarding my concerns around the return to school plans for B.C. in the fall of 2021.
I recognize it has been a very trying couple of years with a lot of stress and anxiety with myriad funding and employment issues. I cannot imagine the immense pressures being faced by you and everyone working in leadership positions throughout the province, Canada, and the world.
School District #35, Langley, did an excellent job last year of keeping infections to a minimum within the school setting and should be commended.
Now that we have more information and better scientific modelling, I believe we can do even better.
As has been confirmed in many peer-reviewed articles and recently acknowledged by the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), the main method of transmission for COVID-19 is aerosol, “from one person to another, like we say, with the aerosols… in the air” (Tam & Njoo, 2021, 42:17). Fomites or surface contact, we now know, is a very minor route of transmission (Lewis, 2021).
The Delta variant that has become much more prevalent in B.C. is known to be highly transmissible, with 1,000 times the amount of virus being shed as with wild type (Doucleff, 2021).
We know too that the Delta variant can be transmitted as easily by vaccinated COVID-19 positive people as by those who are unvaccinated, regardless of whether or not they show symptoms (Mishra, 2021).
This has resulted in asymptomatic and mild cases being responsible for a large percentage of all infections with some estimates being as high as 86 per cent (Mishra, 2021).
Assuming our current government and Provincial Health Officer will go forth with the plan developed in June 2021 for face-to-face learning at pre-pandemic levels with no mitigation strategies for the 2021/2022 school year (Cordasco, 2021), despite the PHAC belief that there will be a fourth wave soon that could potentially exceed hospital capacity (Tam & Njoo, 2021, 15:12), our students, particularly those in kindergarten to Grade 7 (under 12 years old and therefore unvaccinated) will be placed unnecessarily in harm’s way.
To address this, I would propose the following potential solutions:
1) Transition Support Model
I feel that it would be a grave error to end the Transition Support Model utilized in the 2020/2021 school year. It should be reimplemented for the 2021/2022 school year until such time as vaccinations can be sought for children under the age of 12. Not only will this reduce the number of children in classrooms, it will also offer a structure into which children can be easily accepted for online learning if they should need to isolate for a period of time.
2) Mask mandate for K through 12 classrooms
Due to the emergence of the Delta variant, many jurisdictions have recently mandated masks in classrooms as this is a worthwhile layer of protection for our unvaccinated children. In Louisiana on August 2, 2021, Dr. Mark Kline (2021), physician-in-chief at Children’s Hospital, New Orleans, stated that “It has become clear that children are being heavily impacted” (01:22). “Half the children that we’re seeing with COVID were perfectly healthy children who have been infected with COVID and then required admission to the hospital or to the intensive care unit” (03:38). Masks have been proven to work. Although preference would be for N95, KN95, and KF94 masks, even homemade cloth masks reduce the spread of the virus when compliance is high (Howard et al., 2021).
3) Improving air quality in classrooms
Obviously, a full HVAC system upgrade in all schools would be ideal. This should include both air conditioning to address current and future unpredictable weather patterns, and HEPA filtration to filter infectious virus particles and smoke and pollens during days with poor air quality. However, in our chronically underfunded public school system, I suspect it would be a challenge to address this in the short term.
The BCCDC posted a DIY solution for wildfire smoke that involved jury-rigging MERV 13 filters, the minimum rating recommended to combat COVID-19 (West Texas Filters, 2020), to a 20-inch box fan for under $100 (BCCDC, 2021). This solution was recently tested by an air filter company, the CEO of which said, “It’s a reasonably good air purifier. If that’s the only option, I’d rather see people do that than have nothing” (Rogers, 2021). Some back-of-the-napkin calculations on a 30×30-foot classroom seem to point to one of these contraptions being capable of about three air exchanges per hour, which is not ideal, but is better than zero. If the district were to purchase both 20” box fans and 20” MERV 13 filters at a bulk rate, the cost would be minimal – less than $5 per student.
I, personally, would be willing to add that amount as a top-up to the school supply list in an effort to keep the classroom safer for all students.
This year we are faced with a more transmissible variant of concern, and our students under 12 years old are unvaccinated and therefore at risk.
Based on what we now know about COVID-19, I can only ask that we put our knowledge to use in protecting students as best we can. I can only speak for myself, but I believe that parents who have capacity certainly will not hesitate to support their schools in ensuring a safer environment.
We all want our kids back at school, but more critically than that, we want our kids healthy. We are learning every day about the Delta variant’s impacts on kids, and the data coming out of the USA regarding this is not reassuring. Please reconsider putting them at unnecessary risk.
Please feel free to contact me for further discussion.
Dedrie Olver, Langley
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