Cambridge Elementary, which closed for two weeks in November 2020 for a COVID-19 outbreak, was one of three schools in which a team conducted an environmental health assessment to look at what could be contributing to the virus spread in schools. (Photo: Lauren Collins)

Cambridge Elementary, which closed for two weeks in November 2020 for a COVID-19 outbreak, was one of three schools in which a team conducted an environmental health assessment to look at what could be contributing to the virus spread in schools. (Photo: Lauren Collins)

‘Sometimes the guard is let down,’ superintendent says after COVID checks at Surrey schools

District’s health and safety assessment identifies some issues

The superintendent of Surrey’s school district says more can be done to keep schools COVID safe.

Environmental health assessments at three Surrey schools have brought some issues to light, Jordan Tinney told the school board during its Feb. 10 meeting.

Tinney said that to date there had been environmental health checks at three schools in the district: École Panorama Ridge, which has had dozens of exposure notices since the start of the school year, and Cambridge and Newton elementary schools, which both declared outbreaks and shut down for two weeks.

RELATED: COVID outbreak forces Surrey school to close for two weeks, Nov. 14, 2020

RELATED: Surrey school that shut down due to COVID-19 outbreak set to reopen next week, Nov. 26, 2020

RELATED: Second Surrey elementary school declares COVID-19 outbreak, closes for two weeks, Nov. 27, 2020

Schools – COVID exposures

He said daily health checks are needed, as are protocols to help enforce physical distancing in common areas. He added that students should also have their own supplies so they’re not sharing and that the number of parents and visitors at the schools needs to be limited.

Classroom configurations could also be better, he said.

“We’re not pointing any fingers, we’re not blaming anyone, we know that there are calls for smaller class size, but the reality is that classrooms are still not being configured in a manner that is keeping students at the distance to the greatest extent possible,” Tinney said. “For example, some people still think that they we can have kids sitting in pods where you have desks together and those desks could be turned so that the students are facing each other.”

Tinney said that while staff “do practice a lot of vigilance,” there have been some issues in staff rooms or informal areas.

“Sometimes the guard is let down,” he said. “Maybe masks are not worn or in some cases we needed to tape up the couches in the staff rooms and take away some chairs to make sure people were practicing physical distancing.”

And he noted the “importance of cohorts.” Tinney said students should try and remain in their cohorts, particularly during lunch and before and after school.

“All of you can imagine a large secondary school when the day is over, what it’s like to ask students to try and remain in the cohorts.”

Tinney said the district never wants to get as far as an outbreak, and he hopes the team can go into schools earlier when they see cases starting to rise.

READ ALSO: Two classes at Surrey elementary school self-isolating as 4 cases identified, Feb. 12, 2021

READ ALSO: New mask rules in schools provide ‘more clarity,’ but ‘does not go as far as needed’: STA, Feb. 5, 2021

Meantime, Surrey Teachers’ Association first vice-president Julia MacRae said a lot of the issues stem from the overcrowding in the schools.

“We want people to be safer from the pandemic than they have been,” said MacRae, but she added she’s “not upset that they’re paying close attention.”

“It’s interesting (the district) spent a lot of money in cleaning surfaces,” she noted, adding that, through science, it’s become more apparent that COVID-19 is more likely to spread through aerosols.

MacRae said it’s “more likely” for the virus to spread if you get it sitting near someone who is talking, laughing or singing.

“We don’t have a possibility of physical distancing,” she said. “You don’t have a space big enough for the distancing needed.”

She said the STA has heard from some teachers about the issues in staff rooms and informal areas, and that it’s “upsetting to some teachers to not have their lunch space,” but the association supports the move to enforce physical distancing in those areas.

But she noted it goes back to schools being crowded, and teachers not having spaces to eat their lunches if their classrooms are being cleaned.

“There’s no other place for you to go.”

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