As British Columbians watch and listen to public health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry each day, she is lauded for her tone, her optimism, her reassuring presence.
Her briefings keep us apprised of the COVID-19 cases each day, and any changes to her orders regarding public gatherings. Her big-picture calmness is helpful, but it belies some of the reality on the ground, some of the uncertainty and even panic some parents are facing due to the lack of information provided by Fraser Health.
As public health officials wrestle with a second wave, one that has hit Fraser Health particularly hard, there is a lack of communication so staggering that it is causing responses that range from confusion to outrage.
In some cases, siblings and friends of kids who have tested positive in one place are sent back to school, left unaware about the contacts they’ve made. Last week parents told me about a child who tested positive in a middle school class, and who emailed her fellow students to tell them of the confirmed case of COVID-19. Fraser Health told no one. No post on the online school exposure list. The mother of a boy who sat next to the girl heard nothing from Fraser Health, and people are asking: Why?
“I am receiving a lot of calls from parents who are scared, they are looking to Fraser Health to provide consistent, timely updates around exposure events.”
That from City of Chilliwack Coun. Jason Lum last Monday.
“Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to be the case, and the lack of information is only making the situation worse.”
Many of us have heard from parents who are literally panicking because their child has had one, two, even three possible exposure events, yet no one has contacted them.
Fraser Health officials are either unable to keep up with the volume of contact tracing needed following exposure events, or they are doing everything properly according to protocol, but doing a bad job of explaining that protocol to the public.
While at least 33 kids and three teachers at Capella Dance Academy have tested positive for COVID-19, the outbreak was only reported by Fraser Health after 8 p.m. on Nov. 2. Capella’s owner, Sarah Wood, said she received her positive test result on Oct. 26, and was told by Fraser Health to wait for contact tracing to do anything else.
While Wood pro-actively emailed her studio roster on Oct. 27 and shut down, Fraser Health would have been OK with her staying open.
On Nov. 1, just before 10 p.m., parents of a dozen schools in Chilliwack (myself included) were sent letters stating there had been a confirmed case at their child’s school. But Fraser Health’s online school exposure list as of 9 a.m. on Nov. 3 had only one school listed, from Oct. 19. Finally, by 10:30 a.m. that day, it was updated but without dates of exposure.
Part of the problem here is the clash between a long-held culture of privacy regarding our individual healthcare, and the need for broadly shared information amid a public health crisis, i.e. the pandemic.
Fraser Health is making this very challenging.
Those running the Facebook group “BC School Covid Tracker” are sharing exposure letters sent out by Fraser Health. I saw a post recently where someone suggested this was irresponsible and fear-mongering, and we should only follow Fraser Health and the school exposures listed via the BCCDC website.
Yet the letters shared with those who run this Facebook page are official exposure notices from Fraser Health. They are not hearsay and, right now, they are about all we’ve got.
From a Nov. 2 post on the Facebook group: “If two moms can manage to update all the schools in all districts across all of B.C., I am sure one person can maintain the webpage for Fraser Health and same goes for the other health authorities webpages that are not up to date.”
We need more transparency, and more timely notifications so parents can make personal decisions about how to take care of their families.
Paul Henderson is editor of the Chilliwack Progress, sister paper to the North Delta Reporter.