Dr. Bonnie Henry responds to concerns over school interactions

School gatherings not OK

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry is asking school students, particularly teenagers, to respect social distancing guidelines and help prevent the spread of COVID-19 amidst reports of large gatherings involving youth. 

During Monday's press conference, Henry was asked about gatherings involving high numbers of students at local convenience stores, restaurants and so on, especially during school lunch breaks and after class.

While she acknowledges dealing with COVID-19 can be difficult for teens, it is essential all age groups take on the personal responsibility to keep themselves and others safe. 

"We're all adjusting to what the new school looks like and I know it's very different particularly for teenagers, and that strong urge to be socially connected at that time in our lives is a very challenging one to overcome.

"Now's the time we need to stay small, and it will not be forever. Sometimes when you're a teenager in particular it does seem like it's the end of the world but I also know that young people are very resilient and very adaptable."

Henry confirmed there have been no transmission events or outbreaks in B.C. schools yet, but there has been some transmission in young people who have spent time together outside of school.

She says the only way she could see a school shutting down as a result of COVID-19 would be if the school was in a position where it simply could not operate. 

"It would really depend on the situation, and I would encourage parents to recognize that exposure events do not mean your child has been exposed to COVID-19. Unless you've had a call directly from public health, you don't need to worry about that. 

"The only time I could see that a school could close is if too many of the teachers or staff had been exposed to each other or become sick, and the school couldn't operate safely ... for the most part, what we see are very limited exposure events and very small numbers of people who might have had close contact either in the school or outside of the school environment."

Health authorities are continuing to make risk assessments based on individual cases, and Henry says she has great faith in teams who have now been conducting these assessments for months. 

She urges young people to do their part in making a difference, and says she knows that young people understand the importance of keeping their loved ones safe.  

"I empathize with teenagers in particular - who wanted this at this point in your life when there's so many important things you're trying to do around social connections? I know it's challenging, but it's not forever. It is for now, and we need to be adaptable. 

"We don't want to jeopardize the school year. We know that the school environment is so important in many different ways for young people, for children, so this is something we all need to do together. It's on all of us."

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