The first month of school in 2022 will come with a wave of temporary new COVID restrictions as administrators attempt to deal with expected staff shortages from the extremely transmissible, but less virulent Omicron variant.
On Dec. 29, the BC Minister of Education announced that students would be returning from winter break a week later to give staff more time to review health and safety protocols.
While a small number of students were allowed to attend this week, the rest of Mission school staff have been in committees – some already sick and working remotely – ironing out the details for opening day on Jan. 10, said Superintendent Angus Wilson.
“We have more principals with COVID right than we’ve had up to this point,” Wilson said. “You can expect more of that as we go through this month based on mathematical projections.”
Under the new restrictions: sports will continue, but only two teams can be present (no tournaments), no spectators or visitors can attend sporting events or theatre productions, and no visitors can attend schools unless considered essential.
The restrictions are set to end on Jan. 30, and while Wilson said they could potentially be extended, the Provincial Health Authority’s modeling on South Africa and the U.K. has shown levels dropping off after an initial spike.
Wilson said the mutation of the Spanish Flu in the early 20th century followed a similar path.
“One of the flus that we get from time to time is a descendant of the Spanish Flu,” he said. “It started mutating and eventually became more communicable but less virulent and sort of went away.”
Another significant change from last year is Fraser Health will no longer be conducting contact tracing at schools, and no notifications will be sent out for exposures or outbreaks.
Because of the transmissibility of the Omicron variant, contact tracing is no longer effective. Instead, more emphasis is being put on self monitoring and staying home if sick, which will lead to further strains on staffing.
Updated information on the length of time needed to isolate and monitor symptoms will be sent out once it’s made available to the district.
Wilson said staff are coming up with continuity of learning plans in case functional closures have to occur, but there are no plans for online or hybrid learning.
He added bus routes could face similar problems if a significant number of bus drivers are sick at once.
“That’s a possibility as well, but the effort of course, is to keep schools open,” Wilson said, noting that each school will also have its own unique approaches to various COVID concerns.
“Dewdney Elementary is going to have different interpretations then Mission Secondary School, just because of scale and so on,” he said.