Rural and remote school districts are being prioritized for more rapid tests that can be used for students who exhibit COVID-19 symptoms.
The province announced 300-thousand new rapid test kits along with more HEPA filtration units to classrooms that have no access to mechanical ventilation systems.
BC Teachers Federation President, Teri Mooring told Vista Radio the lack of access to vaccines and testing has long been an issue for those in rural settings.
“Families in many cases have to drive quite extensively to have access to vaccinations or testing. Unfortunately, this has been a problem in rural and remote regions but soon, tests will be available more broadly and that’s good but there needs to be a steady supply.”
“This is a good move, these are areas of the province where tests just aren’t as readily available and so it is good to start there and then fan out as more tests become available.”
Simply put, the increased access to rapid tests should make life a lot easier for parents.
“Families are going to be able to use this to inform them when there are symptoms as to whether or not they will be sending their kids off to school or not. There needs to be continued access especially during this Omicron height.”
The school districts first to receive test kits in the northern and Cariboo regions include Cariboo-Chilcotin (SD 27), Haida Gwaii (SD 50), Peace River South (SD 59), Fort Nelson (SD 81), Stikine (SD 87), Nechako Lakes (SD 91) and Nisga’a (SD 92).
In the second phase, tests will be shipped for students aged five to 11 in school districts within the Northern and Interior health authorities.
According to the BC Centre for Disease Control, the first dose rate in the north for 5-11-year-olds is 33%, while the BC mark is 52%.
In Interior Health, the first dose rate for this age group is a little bit higher at 42%.
Mooring and the rest of the BCTF have been calling for ventilation upgrades since the onset of the pandemic. While the larger volume of HEPA filters is a good move, but the announcement comes two years too late.
“We are well into this pandemic and we certainly advocating for HEPA filters being purchased quite some time ago. While we appreciate that districts without mechanical ventilation systems in classrooms or portable classrooms are being prioritized and that is important – it should have been done quite some time ago.”
Late last month, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization approved their recommendations on the use of booster doses in adolescents 12 to 17 years of age who may be at higher risk of severe COVID-19 disease – a move Mooring really supports.
“We know especially with Omicron that booster shot is really necessary. What we are hoping is that will help support schools to stay open during Omicron and that is important.”