Is British Columbia’s School Reopening Ready to Tackle the Tripledemic Redux?

They are already calling for new mask mandates in schools!

Well, as we gear up for yet another exciting season of “Will They, Won’t They?” – the gripping saga of school reopening amidst a triple threat extravaganza – it’s hard not to marvel at the unfolding drama. Will BC’s leaders choose the path of action, akin to superheroes swooping in to save the day, or will they embrace the time-honored tradition of the “wait-and-see” approach? One can only hope that the ghosts of less-lethal virus mutations past won’t crash this academic party. Stay tuned for the next episode of “COVID Chronicles: The Tripledemic Tango” – airing soon on the local news and in your nearest hand-sanitized dreamscape.

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As the countdown to the reopening of schools approaches its final stretch, a unified front comprising doctors, nurses, health scientists, and advocates for both students and teachers has issued a stern warning to the NDP government. This coalition is sounding the alarm about the potential resurgence of what has been ominously labeled the “tripledemic.”

A Looming Threat: The Tripledemic Redux

In no uncertain terms, the coalition known as Protect Our Province B.C. (PoP BC) has conveyed its concerns in an open letter addressed to Premier David Eby, Health Minister Adrian Dix, and Education Minister Rachna Singh. Drawing parallels to the past year, PoP BC foresees a disconcerting déjà vu on the horizon.

During the same time last year, PoP BC made headlines for its prescient prediction of a triple onslaught, a convergence of influenza, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and another devastating wave of COVID-19. Tragically, this prophecy came to fruition as six young lives were claimed within the province, and hospital emergency rooms struggled to cope with the overwhelming demand.

Current Challenges and Gaps in Preparedness

The letter underscores several critical gaps in the current state of preparedness within British Columbia’s educational institutions. At present, the absence of comprehensive mask mandates and the lack of verified indoor air quality metrics within schools serve as harbingers of potential danger. Ventilation, often an afterthought, remains insufficient, and high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtration systems are glaringly absent from the majority of classrooms.

The state of testing is equally concerning, with nucleic acid testing being scarcely available. The sporadic nature of provincial public health reports further compounds the challenge, providing limited insight into the evolving situation.

The Impending Threat: A Summer Wave and Global Precedents

Pointing to the recent resurgence of COVID-19 cases in certain parts of the United States, the emergence of new variants in countries like Japan and the U.K., and an alarming increase in respiratory illnesses during the southern hemisphere’s winter, PoP BC contends that the risk is far from abating.

Charting a Course for Safe Reopening: A Five-Point Blueprint

In response to these concerns, PoP BC has put forth a comprehensive five-point plan aimed at safeguarding the health and well-being of students, educators, and their families:

  1. Elevated Ventilation and Air Quality Standards: Prioritizing improved ventilation and comprehensive air cleaning measures to create a safer indoor environment.
  2. Reinstating Mask Mandates: Acknowledging that COVID-19 is airborne, similar to cigarette smoke, and necessitating the reinstatement of mask mandates within schools.
  3. Rapid Testing Deployment: Tapping into the federal stockpile of 39 million rapid antigen tests and ensuring their widespread distribution.
  4. Early Vaccination: Proposing early and comprehensive vaccination of both children and families to counter the threat of COVID-19 transmission.
  5. Recognizing Schools’ Role in Transmission: Highlighting the significance of schools as a major source of COVID-19 transmission, thereby emphasizing the urgent need for preventive measures.

Leadership’s Critical Decision

In an unequivocal statement directed at the leadership, PoP BC presents a clear choice: to either remain inactive or to commit to safeguarding the health of British Columbia’s children, educators, and families. The coalition stresses that schools are not isolated entities; they are conduits through which viruses can easily infiltrate and spread to households and communities.

Citing a U.S. study involving over 166,000 households, the report asserts that a substantial 70.4 percent of COVID-19 transmissions were traced back to children. This data reinforces the urgent need for action.

A Glimmer of Hope: Upcoming Vaccine Approvals

With the imminent approval of new versions of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, the potential for a bolstered defense against the virus grows stronger. These vaccines could be available as early as the end of September, providing a crucial tool in the fight against COVID-19.

Learning from the Past: A Precautionary Approach

The trajectory of the B.C. government’s pandemic management shifted more than a year and a half ago, favoring a hybrid immunity approach. This strategy hinged on achieving high vaccination rates and relying on mass infections of less-lethal virus mutations. As of April, nearly 400,000 confirmed cases and 5,430 deaths had been recorded since the pandemic’s inception in early 2020.

A Unified Call to Action

The open letter bears the signatures of over 50 concerned organizations, including the Safe Schools Coalition B.C., B.C. School Covid Tracker, Do No Harm B.C., Vancouver District Parent Advisory Council’s health and safety committee, and the Canadian Aerosol Transmission Coalition. This diverse coalition underscores the urgency of the matter and the broad-based support for the proposed measures.

A Legacy of Preparedness: PoP BC’s Co-Founder

Lyne Filiatrault, a co-founder of PoP BC, brings a unique perspective to this issue. A retired emergency room doctor, Filiatrault played a pivotal role in identifying and containing the first case of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) at Vancouver General Hospital in 2003.

Reflecting on the past, the 2007 report of Ontario’s SARS judicial public inquiry commended B.C.’s robust safety culture and infection control practices. It urged the adoption of a precautionary principle across the public health system, emphasizing that proactive efforts to mitigate risk need not await scientific validation.

In conclusion, the paramount concern remains the safety and well-being of students, educators, and families as schools prepare to reopen. The comprehensive five-point plan put forth by Protect Our Province B.C. offers a roadmap to navigate the challenges posed by the potential “tripledemic.” The time for action is now, and the decisions made in the coming weeks will undoubtedly shape the trajectory of the province’s battle against COVID-19.

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