COVID-19 (Novel Coronavirus): Updates, facts and actions
As you’ve heard, the spread of Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) is a health concern that is both evolving and being closely monitored by many organizations across the world. In fact, on March 11th, the WHO officially declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic.
At the level of the school district, we’re working alongside Fraser Health, the BC Centre of Disease Control and the Office of the Provincial Health Officer to both stay informed and to take direction from them on the issue.
Included in that is the indefinite suspension of all in-class instruction in our schools. We’re working hard to answer more questions about what that means.
NEW, Tuesday March 17th: The provincial government announced it has indefinitely suspended all in-class instruction for BC’s K-12 learners. Read more here: https://newwestschools.ca/indefinite-suspension-of-all-k-12-instruction/
In advance of Spring Break and people’s travel plans, Karim Hachlaf, Superintendent, sent out this message to all families in the district: Spring Break message to parents
This letter from the Ministry of Education follows a joint announcement by Health Minister Adrian Dix and Provincial Medical Health Officer (PHO) Dr. Bonnie Henry: Ministry of Ed COVID-19 Update for March 13.
Chinese translation: 中文翻译
French translation: traduction française
Punjabi translation: ਪੰਜਾਬੀ ਅਨੁਵਾਦ
Highlights of current recommendations include the following:
- directing all community gatherings and events planned for 50 people or more be cancelled or postponed
- advising against all non-essential travel outside of Canada, including the United States
- if you do travel outside of Canada, asking individuals and families to self-isolate (stay away from school, work or day care settings) for 14 days upon your return to BC
- there are changes to Canadian border access for anybody who is not either a Canadian or a permanent resident (please check Government of Canada websites if this applies to you)
- recommendations that whenever possible, we all stay home
What are we doing in New Westminster?
Like other districts, we’re working with recommendations that have come from the Office of the Provincial Health Officer and other organizations. Here are the measures we’re implementing and the things you can do to be part of keeping our district’s kids, staff and families healthy and safe …
Suspension of in-class instruction
For the foreseeable future, all in-class instruction has been suspended across BC. We are currently working with all our stakeholder groups to figure out how we can offer plan that delivers continuity of learning for as many of our students as possible.
Limited additional amounts we do know: every student will receive their final marks, all students who are on track to graduate their grade will do so, post-secondary institutions are being engaged to make sure the transition of our grade 12 graduates is supported, and plans to deliver child care or limited instruction to children of frontline workers (such as health care workers) are in the works.
We appreciate your patience as we all work together to deal with this fast-moving situation. A plan is in the works and we’ll reach out as we know more.
What is social distancing? Just what it sounds like: reducing your close social interactions. It can mean anything from a formal quarantine to avoiding spaces where crowds are likely. It also includes the precautionary measure of suspending in-class instruction. And, on the whole, it’s one of the most important things we can do to curb the spread of COVID-19.
The basics are: stay home as much as possible.
Let your kids run around the house a bit more. Work from home if you can. If you need to go for groceries, try and go alone instead of bringing the kids and aim for less busy hours. If the kids need to get outside, consider walks or bigger fields where they can run around with more distance between them.
Consider how big you’d like your circle of contact to be. For a while, it might mean turning down some playdates or birthday parties. But it’s part of helping flatten the curve to reduce the possible impact on our health care system.
Good respiratory hygiene etiquette and hand hygiene is key. What does that look like?
- People should cough or sneeze into a flexed elbow or tissue.
- Tissues used should be disposed of into plastic lined waste containers.
- Remind kids not to share food or drinks with their friends.
- And regular hand washing with plain soap and water should be reinforced at schools and at home – especially on entry or exit of the school, before or after eating, after using the toilet, and after using sporting equipment or other shared learning tools.
Stay healthy by eating healthy foods, keeping physically active and getting enough sleep.
Students and staff who are ill with symptoms of respiratory illness (fever, cough, fatigue, and/or muscle aches) should stay home from school or child care settings. And always remember to inform the school or centre of the absence.
Cleaning and disinfecting
The district and their schools are making sure there is regular cleaning and disinfecting of high-touch and other surfaces. We’ve confirmed that the chemicals and processes being used by our janitorial team meet all recommended standards, as laid out by the Office of the Provincial Health Officer.
The use of masks in schools is NOT recommended. Masks are indicated only for people who have symptoms, to reduce their risk of spreading the virus. But, again, anybody who has symptoms should be kept home from school or child care settings.
Learning happens in so many ways, and the experience of travel can offer many opportunities for growth. We value the trips that groups across our district organize and all that goes into them – knowing they both require extensive planning and support, and they garner so much excitement for all who participate.
While individuals and families may assume higher levels of risk, as a school district we have to exercise an additional level of diligence to ensure the safety and well-being of our students, staff and volunteers come first. After careful consideration, we made the difficult decision to cancel a number of school trips and we are working with our respective families to sort through the logistics.
This is an evolving situation, and timely and accurate information is critical. We will continue to monitor the spread of COVID-19, evaluate risk factors and may need to reconsider other trips and large scale events, as the situation changes – though we want to assure parents, student and staff that we’ll make every effort to give appropriate time to adjust plans.
For parents, family and staff who may be travelling internationally (including the United States) for personal reasons, a 14-day self-isolation period is being enforced by the Provincial Health Officer.
Staff who travel outside of Canada are being required to report this information to their supervisors before they return to work, so that a decision can be made on whether a mandated self-isolation period is appropriate.
For a list of the broad regions of highest concern, that information is available here: https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/2019-novel-coronavirus-infection/latest-travel-health-advice.html
*Please note: there are cities and communities in other countries, not listed in the above link, also experiencing outbreaks, and the overall situation will continue to change.
Specific recommendations of note right now:
- From the Office of the Provincial Health Officer: anyone travelling outside of Canada is required to self-isolate for 14 days and monitor themselves and their families closely for symptoms of illness upon their return to Canada.
- From Public Health Agency of Canada: all Canadians should avoid cruise ship travel due to the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak.
- New restrictions at Canadian borders and for flights heading into Canada may mean that some individuals and families may not be able to enter the country. People with plans to fly internationally should check both the Government of Canada websites and connect with your airline provider as many flights are being cancelled.
A new virus, like COVID-19, can create anxiety. And it can be difficult for students/children to understand – especially if someone in their school or family is sick and they’re exposed to hearing troubling messages on the radio, online or on television.
Here’s what you can do to help worried kids through this situation:
- Reassure the students/children about their safety and health. Use the opportunity to remind and empower them with things they can do: practice good respiratory etiquette and hand hygiene (see above, under prevention), and talk to them about the preventative importance of social distancing.
- Listen to students/children, encourage them to share their feelings and ask questions, and provide them with age-appropriate information in return. Do your best to answer their questions honestly, loop back to them if you need to first find the answer and correct rumours or misinformation when you hear them.
- Maintaining familiar activities and routines as much as possible can help reinforce a sense of security for kids. Or, if social distancing has changed that, consider creating new routines that can be practiced each day (adding in set patterns or times of day for walks, guided yoga or mediation, reading times, free play time, etc).
- Monitor for discrimination and/or bullying around COVID-19 – in particular towards those who may have been exposed to the virus and are self-isolating at home or self-monitoring for symptoms.
If you are showing symptoms
British Columbians should closely monitor their health right now. If you have any symptoms at all of a cold or influenza, even if they are mild, stay away from others. If you have been to areas where we know there has been transmission of COVID-19, or have any other reason to believe you may have contracted the virus, contact your health care provider, call 8-1-1 or reach out to your closest public health office (contact info for the New Westminster office can be found here: https://www.fraserhealth.ca/Service-Directory/Locations/New-Westminster/new-westminster-public-health-unit#.XmkPl6hKiUk )
Further information and resources
Did you know the Province of BC has set up a non-health related COVID-19 phone line? Wonder about latest travel advisories, provincial closures, government services available to help people through? Call 1-888-COVID19, with service available in over 110 languages.
Looking for a tool to help talk to your kids about what’s happening? CBC Kids News and the Provincial Health Officer made this video: https://www.cbc.ca/kidsnews/post/watch-coronavirus-facts-versus-fiction
If you’re looking for more information on the evolving situation around COVID-19, the BC Centre for Disease Control has more here: bccdc.ca
The Office of the Provincial Health Officer has also put together this helpful FAQ for parents and kids: http://www.bccdc.ca/Health-Info-Site/Documents/COVID19%20QA%20for%20kids%20Feb%202020.pdf