Students and teachers resumed classes at Nakusp Elementary School on Monday after a two-week shutdown prompted by exposure to the virus that causes COVID-19.
“The school reopened its doors and welcomed back all the children and staff on May 17, and everyone has been super-supportive of the need to close,” says Terry Taylor, superintendent of School District 10 Arrow Lakes.
Eight people in total came down with cases of COVID from the exposures at NES. So many staff and students were on self-isolation – 120 of 159 students – it was impossible for the facility to keep open, officials said at the time.
Since the high point in infections, however, the number of cases in the community – and the schools – has gone down, leaving the district on the road to recovery from the incident.
“Really COVID cases in schools are a reflection of what’s going on in the community,” Taylor told the Valley Voice. “There’s been a steady decline since the high… and the schools are in good shape.”
Taylor says the district’s response to the virus’ arrival (which was never declared an official ‘outbreak’ by Interior Health) followed the playbook the district had been working on for months. All that preparation and planning paid off, she said.
“We had a plan in March, had to re-draft them in August, and re-drafted again in November, and again in February,” she said. “We found out plans were really effective in ensuring the safety of kids and staff.
“And the Ministry… did a review of our COVID safety plans. What they’ve shown is we’ve not only been compliant with public health and ministry protocols, but also that school continues to be a safe environment. “
The high school across the street was also affected, as many students decided to stay home for the duration. At its low point, half the high school student body was absent from class, says Taylor. While it’s understandable – and because of the many community connections in a small town, some drop was inevitable -- Taylor’s message now is for everyone to come back to class.
“Parents and staff can rest assured our schools are safe and will remain so,” she said. “I think we’re in a really good place.”
Taylor says the next few weeks will see more outdoor classes taking place as well, as schools take advantage of better weather to reduce the chance of further exposures.
While the cases in Nakusp made the subdistrict a temporary hotspot for Interior Health, overall the province continues to show a slow decline in the number of cases and an increase in the number of people vaccinated.
During the week May 2-8, there were six cases reported in the Arrow Lakes health service area, one in the Kootenay Lake area and 10 in the Nelson area.
From the beginning of the pandemic to April 30, 2021, the Arrow Lakes had had 11 cases, Kootenay Lake 13 and Nelson 157.
As of May 17, there had been 139,664 total cases in the province. 132,841 people had recovered and 1,648 had died.
On Monday, the BC Centre for Disease Control reported 1,360 new cases in the province over the weekend, and 126 cases in the Interior Health region. The region now has 451 active cases, 22 hospitalizations, and 13 people in critical care. Fourteen people died from COVID-19 in BC between May 14 and 17.
As of May 6, 43% of all BC residents had received their first vaccination dose –84% of those over the age of 70. Estimates for the Valley Voice readership area show a wide range of uptake: the Arrow Lakes subregion of Interior Health had a rate between 61% and 80%; the Kootenay Lake subregion was at 41-60%, while the Nelson sub-region was estimated at 21-40% coverage.
As of May 8, there have been 2,127,288 vaccines administered in BC and 1,016 reports of adverse events, 60 of which were deemed serious.
John Boivin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Valley Voice