Health officials confirm COVID-19 variant at B.C. high school but find no other positive cases

·3 min read

B.C. health officials announced 414 new cases of COVID-19 and 16 more deaths on Wednesday, as they revealed the results of an investigation into possible exposure to a new coronavirus variant at a Maple Ridge high school.

In a written statement, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix said public health teams have confirmed that someone at Garibaldi Secondary School was infected with a more transmissible form of the virus but has since recovered.

The person who tested positive was a close contact of a known case of the variant first identified in the U.K., raising concerns that it might spread through the school.

But it appears not.

A total of 81 students and eight staff members who are in that person's cohort were all tested to see if the virus had spread, and all of them tested negative, according to the statement from Henry and Dix.

"We know the COVID-19 variants make things more challenging as the virus is more likely to spread quickly, which is why we all need to continue to make safe choices," Henry and Dix said.

"Until the COVID-19 vaccines are available for all of us, let's choose less and choose small. This is the path to get to the brighter days ahead."

Wednesday's update put the number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 in B.C. at 278 people, 80 of whom are in intensive care. The total number of hospitalizations has now fallen about 27 per cent from the peak seen a month ago.

There are currently 4,426 active cases of coronavirus in the province, with public health monitoring 7,049 people across B.C. who are in self-isolation because of COVID-19 exposure.

Henry and Dix said it is especially important right now for businesses to have carefully developed safety plans in place and warned public health teams and WorkSafeBC will be stepping up surveillance in areas where they see high levels of transmission.

"Our B.C. COVID-19 pandemic response is a careful balance — protecting our communities and also keeping open as much as we can that is safe to do so," they said.

"It is about being able to do some things at a moderate level, instead of completely closing most places and activities, as we have seen elsewhere. A walk with a friend allows you to see each other, to have that important connection and still remain safe. This is the modified approach we want to continue."

A total of 1,234 people in B.C. have lost their lives due to COVID-19 since the pandemic began out of 68,780 confirmed cases. More than 61,643 people who tested positive have recovered.

B.C. recorded one new outbreak in a health-care facility on Wednesday at Burnaby Hospital, just two days after another outbreak was declared over.

So far, 142,146 people have received a dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, with 6,417 of those being second doses.

On Thursday, officials are announcing "enhanced" public health and safety guidelines for kindergarten to Grade 12 schools across the province. The update, which also includes an announcement on increased funding for schools, comes as parents and teachers continue to push for better protection in the classroom.