Our Medical Health Officers answer common questions from schools and parents about going to school during COVID-19.
Questions and answers with Dr. Ariella Zbar and Surrey Schools Superintendent Jordan Tinney - September 2021
Case and contact management
What is the process for case and contact management in schools?
- Fraser Health receives lab results of all positive cases in our region. We directly contact each case to interview them for contact tracing. If the case is a student or a school staff member, we will ask additional questions about their time at school. If the case attended school during their infectious period, we will notify the school or school district immediately to discuss the exposure. The school community is then notified of the exposure.
- If the case is a student, we will interview both the student and their parent/guardian. If the student is a child, we will contact the parent/guardian first. If the student is an adolescent, we will contact the student first. If we cannot gather the necessary information from the parent/guardian or student to complete our risk assessment, we will ask the school for additional information.
- Privacy is maintained throughout the case and contact management process. Details of the exposure will not be shared with the school community. If there is an exposure at the school, staff and students can continue to attend school unless they are directly contacted by Fraser Health and do not have any new symptoms of illness.
- The timeline of the case and contact process varies due to the timing of when Fraser Health receives lab results, information gathering in order to complete the risk assessment, and volume. We are never certain when contact tracing is over because there could be new cases within the incubation period, which we will continue to monitor. We encourage everyone to continue to practice infection prevention and control measures, such as physical distancing, hand hygiene, mask use, regular cleaning and monitoring for signs and symptoms of illness and being tested if needed.
When would someone be asked to self-isolate?
Students or staff may be told not to go to school (i.e. asked to self-isolate) if Public Health determines through case and contact investigation, and risk assessment, that the individual was at higher risk of exposure.
In these cases, people will be asked to stay home and self-isolate in the event they get sick.
- If someone has been in close contact with a confirmed case, such as prolonged face-to-face contact, that person will be identified as a close contact because they are at higher risk of contracting COVID-19. Close contacts will be directly contacted by public health and will be asked to self-isolate. Only public health can determine who is a close contact.
- The close contact will self-isolate at home away from others and will monitor their symptoms during the isolation period. The isolation period is 14 days from the date of exposure. Public Health will provide isolation dates to the individual. If they develop symptoms, they will seek a COVID-19 test.
- Contact tracing will not be completed for close contacts. Contact tracing is only completed for cases.
- For schools and child care, public health will determine who is a close contact and is required to self-isolate. This is because schools have several measures in place and this information will be used in the case and contact management process for schools.
- If someone in the household is a close contact and is self-isolating, the rest of the household does not need to self-isolate. If someone in the household is a confirmed case, then the rest of the household will be directed to self-isolate.
What if someone in a student’s household has COVID-19? Can the child still go to school?
If someone in a household is sick with a confirmed case of COVID-19, then Public Health will advise the entire household to stay home and self-isolate.
Individuals in that household should not go to school or work until advised by Public Health that it is safe to do so.
What do parents need to do if they think their child has potentially exposed others to COVID-19?
Public Health gets the report of all of COVID-19 cases, follows up with each individually, determines the exposure and risk of transmission, and provides the advice they need. You do not need to contact anybody until Public Health reaches you.
If you choose to let friends and family know there may have been an exposure, please reassure them that Public Health will be providing them advice soon.
What do I do if my child has symptoms of the common cold?
Your child should stay home if they have any new symptoms of illness. If your child has symptoms of common cold, such as runny nose or sore throat, they should stay home for 24 hours.
If symptoms improve, they can return back to school. If your child has a fever, or if after 24 hours symptoms remain unchanged or worsen, seek a health assessment by calling the Fraser Health Virtual Health team at 1-800-314-0999 between 10 AM and 10 PM seven days a week or 8-1-1 outside of these hours.
Key symptoms of COVID-19 to watch for are fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath, loss of sense of smell or taste, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
If my child has been potentially exposed to COVID-19, do they need to stay home from school?
In many cases, Public Health will not advise people to self-isolate because the risk of exposure is relatively low.
In those situations, Public Health will notify people by letter to watch for signs and symptoms, which means being on high alert for new or unusual symptoms and to isolate and seek advice on testing if you feel you have developed symptoms.